Cancer risk linked with diet of highly processed foods: New study

There is more confirmation linking an individual’s diet with health risks like cancer.  A new study published in the British Medical Journal has suggested that the more highly processed foods a person regularly consumes, the greater their risk for cancer. 

Overall, the results of the study suggests that when the proportion of highly-processed food in the diet increased by 10%, the number of cancers detected increased by 12%.

What constitutes “highly processed food”?  The researchers defined it as:

  • Mass-produced packaged breads and buns
  • Sweet or savory packaged snacks including crisps
  • Chocolate bars and sweets
  • Sodas and sweetened drinks
  • Meatballs, poultry and fish nuggets
  • Instant noodles and soups
  • Frozen or shelf-life ready meals
  • Foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats

Bottom line: There have been numerous studies over the past several decades linking various chemical additives contained in highly processed foods to myriad of serious health outcomes, cancer among them.  Though this current pilot study can be added to the mix, there is far more research that needs to be conducted on a large scale before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  And rather than just a vague classification of ‘highly processed foods’, future studies need to clearly identify which additives contained in these foods place people at most risk.  However, even given the shortcomings of the current study, there are so many other studies linking a diet of processed foods to cancer and other health conditions, including diabetes, and heart, digestive and immune disorders, that for those people who value health, a prudent approach calls for switching to a diet of minimally processed, clean, whole, natural foods.

source / Listen to interview: BMJ Talk Medicine A study published by The BMJ today reports a possible association between intake of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) food in the diet and cancer.


Journal reference: Fiolet, T., et al.,  Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort, British Medical Journal, 2018.

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: