The more ultra-processed foods you eat the higher your risk of developing cancer, new study suggests

A pile of junk food including a burger, fries, chocolate and cookies.
Ultra-processed foods include certain types of soft drinks, bread, snacks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products, and ready-to-eat meals.happy_lark/Getty Images
  • A study found people who ate a lot of ultra-processed foods were more likely to develop cancer.

  • Every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in the diet was linked with a 2% higher risk of cancer.

  • Ultra-processed foods include packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products, and ready-made meals.

People who eat high amounts of ultra-processed foods are more likely to develop cancer, according to a study.

The study spanned 10 years and looked at almost 200,000 participants in the UK with an average age of 58. Researchers compared how much UPF they ate with whether they developed 34 types of cancer.

In the study, UPFs included products such as soft drinks, mass-produced industrial-processed breads, sweet or savory packaged snacks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products, and ready-made meals.

According to the British Heart Foundation charity, ultra-processed foods "typically have five or more ingredients and contain industrial substances such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, and artificial colors and flavors."

This is the latest study to find a link between eating UPFs, which make up a large part of people's diets in countries including the US and UK, and an increased risk of certain diseases.

It follows a US-based study last year found that men who ate the highest levels of UPFs were 29% more likely to get colorectal cancer.

The researchers in the UK study concluded that middle-aged adults who ate a lot of UPFs were at greater risk of getting cancer in general, as well as specific types of the disease, such as brain cancer and ovarian cancer.

Each 10% increase of ultra-processed foods in a participant's diet was linked with a 2% higher risk of cancer, rising to 19% for ovarian cancer, the researchers highlighted.

The likelihood a person would die from cancer also rose the more UPFs they ate. Each 10% increase was linked to a 6% higher risk of dying, rising to 16% for breast cancer, and 30% for ovarian.

Dr. Kiara Chang, an author of the study published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, said in a press release: "The average person in the UK consumes more than half of their daily energy intake from ultra-processed foods."

"Ultra-processed foods are everywhere and highly marketed with cheap price and attractive packaging to promote consumption. This shows our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods."

More research into UPFs and cancer is needed, an expert said

Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, UK, who wasn't involved in the study, said there were many statistically significant differences between those eating the most and the least UPFs, including whether they smoked, were obese, or exercised, that made it "statistically almost impossible" to account for them in the study.

He said this type of study "can be useful for picking some new risk factors for further investigation. However, the definition of ultra-processed food is so vague which makes establishing any cause-effect relationship problematic."

Dr. Simon Steenson, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation charity who also wasn't involved in the study, said: "It is possible that a higher proportion of UPFs in the diet is a marker of an overall poorer diet."

Poor diets are often "higher in energy, saturated fat, salt, and free sugars, and lower in fruit, vegetables, fiber, and essential nutrients – dietary factors that are known to negatively affect health," he said.

He continued: "An issue with the concept of UPFs is that this category can also contain commonly consumed foods that provide important nutrients, such as packaged wholemeal bread, which contains fiber and essential vitamins and minerals, or high fiber, lower sugar breakfast cereals."

These types of foods "can form an important part of a healthy, balanced diet and provide affordable and widely available options that can form the basis of nutritious meals," he said.

Read the original article on Insider