Ultra-processed snacks and meals may raise cancer risk

Research we're watching


Image: © xfotostudio/Getty Images

If your food is more likely to come out of a bag or a box than from a tree or the ground, you may be putting yourself at higher risk for cancer. A study published online Feb. 14, 2018, by The BMJ found that people who eat more ultra-processed foods have a higher overall risk of cancer than those who don't. In fact, when the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person's diet increased by 10%, the risk of cancers increased by more than 10%.

The researchers came to their conclusions after reviewing data from more than 100,000 people, on average 42 years old, based on their usual consumption of 3,300 different foods. The foods were classified according to their level of processing. Ultra-processed foods included things like

  • packaged breads

  • snacks and desserts

  • sodas and other sweet drinks

  • reconstituted meat products

  • canned and boxed soups and meals.

The take-home message: whenever possible, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables instead of heavily processed foods, which are generally high in fat, sodium, and unhealthy additives.