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Study: Eating Highly Processed Foods Linked to Increased Cancer Risk
By Dawn Undurraga
The more highly processed foods you eat, the higher your risk of cancer.
That's the takeaway from a new study that followed more than 100,000 French adults for eight years. It found that a 10 percent increase in consumption of foods like soda, sugary snack cakes, processed meats and breakfast cereals corresponded with a 10 percent increase in cancer risk.
The study, published last month in the London-based medical journal BMJ, is the first of its kind to link increased cancer risk to all "ultra-processed" foods, not just processed meats. Ultra-processed foods are defined as foods that undergo multiple physical, biological and mechanical processes to be highly palatable, affordable and shelf stable.
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, cancer is estimated to affect more than 1.6 million Americans each year, causing nearly 600,000 deaths. Dietary links to cancer have long been established, with about a third of cancer cases estimated to be preventable through more healthful diet and lifestyle choices.
Diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes are known to reduce the risk of cancer, while those high in processed meats increase cancer risk. Learn about EWG's Cancer Defense Diet here.
According to the study, ultra-processed foods make up a significant part of modern diets, contributing one-fourth to one-half of the calories of an average diet. Ultra-processed are often high in chemical additives and preservatives, and low in fiber, beneficial vitamins and minerals, and cancer-preventative plant compounds called phytonutrients.
In a podcast discussion of the study, the researchers said they really don't know the full impact of ultra-processed products on health. They hypothesized that these foods' low nutritional quality, coupled with the high calorie, sodium and sugar content, could contribute to the increased risk of cancer.
But those factors alone didn't account for the entire cancer burden. The researchers said that other contributing factors could be the prevalence of food additives in ultra-processed foods and the presence of other compounds created during food processing.
See EWG's Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives to learn which ones to avoid.
The science on the health effects of ultra-processed foods is just beginning to emerge. In the meantime, EWG's Food Scores can help you to steer clear of ultra-processed foods by revealing the degree of processing for more than 80,000 food products.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jared Kaufman
Eating a better diet has been linked with lower levels of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But unfortunately 821 million people — about 1 in 9 worldwide — face hunger, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. In addition, food insecurity is associated with even higher health care costs in the U.S., particularly among older people. To help direct worldwide focus toward solving these issues, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and undernutrition by 2030.
mevans / E+ / Getty Images
Calls for Radical Climate Action Grow Louder as NOAA Reports Last Month Was Hottest June Ever Recorded
By Jessica Corbett
As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.
By John R. Platt
For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.
Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.