Now there’s more reason to get rid of ultra-processed foods in our diet after researchers found another downside to eating pre-cooked and instant meals.
A new study published in the weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal The BMJ on Wednesday reported about the health risk of men consuming high amounts of ultra-processed foods.
The team comprising researchers at Tufts University and Harvard University found a link between heavily processed foods and colorectal cancer in men.
“We started out thinking that colorectal cancer could be the cancer most impacted by diet compared to other cancer types,” lead author Lu Wang said in a press release.
The postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts continued, “Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for colorectal cancer. Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.”
The team analyzed data from 200,000 participants — 159,907 women and 46,341 men — across three large studies assessing dietary intake in the past 25 years. A total of 1,294 cases of colorectal cancer among men and 1,922 cases among women were documented during the study period.
Every participant answered a food frequency questionnaire every four years. In the questionnaire, they were asked about the frequency of their consumption of about 130 food items.
The scientists found after analyzing collected data that men who frequently consumed instant meals were at 29% higher risk for developing colorectal cancer than those who only ate processed foods in small amounts. They did not find the same link in female participants.
Colorectal or colon cancer is one of the more common types of cancer in men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 36 new colon cancer cases were reported for every 100,000 people in 2019, the latest year for which incidence data were available. Additionally, 13 in 100,000 people died of this cancer that year.
Wang pointed out that there was a notable association between colorectal cancer and ultra-processed foods in men who frequently ate “sausages, bacon, ham, and fish cakes.” Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda and sugary milk-based drinks, also appeared to have increased colorectal cancer risk in men.