Feb. 1, 2023 -- Eating more ultra-processed food is linked to an increased risk of getting and dying from cancer, particularly ovarian cancer, according to a new study.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine, looked at more than 197,000 people in the United Kingdom. More than half were women. Scientists examined the link between eating ultra-processed foods and 34 types of cancer over a decade.
UPFs include sodas, sausages, store-bought cakes, ready-to-eat meals, hot dogs, and prepackaged soups, among many others.
“Ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust colour, flavour, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” said Kiara Chang, an author of the study at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, in a statement. “Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods.”
People who eat more ultra-processed foods also tend to “drink more fizzy drinks and less tea and coffee, as well as less vegetables and other foods associated with a healthy dietary pattern,” Duane Mellor at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, told CNN.
“This could mean that it may not be an effect specifically of the ultra-processed foods themselves, but instead reflect the impact of a lower intake of healthier food,” said Mellor, who was not involved in the study.
People in the study ate between 9.1% and 41.4% of their diets from UPFs. Researchers compared their eating habits with medical records listing cancer diagnoses and deaths.
For every 10% increase in UPF eating was a 2% increase in any cancer, and a 19% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Deaths rose 6% for every 10% increase in consumption, and the risk of death from ovarian cancer rose 30%.
UPFs have a lot of salt, sugar, and fat, with little fiber or whole foods. They also can be contaminated during processing and by use of additives and packaging, the study says.