Sep 1, 2022 - Health

Ultra-processed foods linked to increased risk of cancer and early death, studies find

Snack items are displayed for sale in a grocery store on Nov. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Consuming a lot of ultra-processed foods can lead to a number of adverse health effects as well as early death, according to two large-scale studies published in BMJ medical journal Wednesday.

Driving the news: The studies, conducted in the U.S. and Italy, concluded that increased ultra-processed food consumption is associated with higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and overall mortality, along with higher colorectal cancer deaths in men.

  • It also increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, depression, and overall mortality.

Why it matters: Adults with the lowest quality diet, and the highest ultra-processed food consumption, were at the highest risk for death from any cause.

What they're saying: "Beyond poor nutrition profiles, ultra-processed foods commonly contain food additives such as dietary emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners, some types of which have been suggested to increase the pro-inflammatory potential of the gut microbiome, promoting colon carcinogenesis," investigators said.

But, but, but: Reformulating ultra-processed foods by, for example, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners, is not a solution and can be especially troublesome if promoted as healthy products, researchers said.

  • "They would remain partly, mainly, or solely formulations of chemicals."

Be smart: The rational solution is public policies and actions — including publicity advising avoidance — designed to reduce production and consumption of ultra-processed foods and to restrict or prohibit their promotion, researchers said.

For the record: Colorectal cancer is most common in adults 65 to 74 years old, but it's also among the fastest-growing cancers in people younger than 50.

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