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How Do Processed Foods Cause Cancer

Mar 21, 2023

How Do Processed Foods Cause Cancer

Let’s start this discussion with the necessary disclaimer that all food processing companies will insist on – there is no direct correlation between processed foods causing cancer. What has been shown many times over is that processed foods can increase the risk of certain cancers.

Perhaps the title of this article should be “how do processed foods increase the risk of cancer”.

In the United States, the lifetime risk, for men and women, of being diagnosed with any cancer is 39.3 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. There is a wide array of research studies that show lifestyle factors, including diet, are among the most modifiable and important risk factors for cancer.

A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggested a possible link between “ultra-processed” foods and cancer. The study defined ultra-processed foods as those lacking vitamins and fiber, which also contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt. They often represent as much as half of the daily energy intake in several developed countries, including the USA. These types of food are often linked to obesity as well.

The list of “ultra-processed” foods includes packaged bakery products, snacks, sugary cereals, fizzy drinks, deli meats and reconstituted meat products.

The BMJ study showed that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a 12 percent risk of overall cancer and an 11 percent risk of breast cancer. These findings add to the strong body of evidence linking poor diet with overweight/obesity and cancer risk.

Eating these types of foods, also known as a “Western type” diet, contribute to weight gain, overweight, obesity and 12 specific cancers – with a noted correlation between red or processed meat and colorectal cancer.

The three main ways processed foods increase our risk of cancer are:

  • Processed foods contain legal, but highly controversial, food additives such as sodium nitrite in processed meat or titanium dioxide (white food pigment), for which carcinogenicity (they cause cancer) has been suggested in animal studies. Basically, these processed foods introduce substances into our bodies that are foreign and non-nutritional for us. These foreign substances substantially alter our absorption of vitamins and minerals, leading to imbalances that lead to development of cancers.
  • Processed foods often have a higher content of total fat, saturated fat, and added sugar and salt, along with a lower fiber and vitamin density. These factors cause digestive challenges and can lead to increased cancers of the stomach and intestines.
  • Beyond nutritional composition, processed foods contain reactionary contaminants, due to the heat necessary in the processing steps. Some of these contaminants have carcinogenic properties (such as acrylamide, heterocyclic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

Perhaps some old nutritional advice can be helpful following this dismal review of processed foods. One old bit of advice goes “if it comes in a bag, a pouch, a box, or is microwaveable, throw it away before consuming”. Another great bit of nutrition advice, “if you can shoot it, catch it, dig it out of the ground or pick it from a tree, it is likely good for you”. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling