With debates still continuing over the pros and cons of processed foods, what is the news all about ultra-processed foods? Firstly, how do you classify foods as ultra-processed?
A study by French researchers shows that ultra-processed foods consumption paves way for cancer risk. According to these researchers, foods that undergo the most industrial food processing are classified as ultra-processed. For example, fish nuggets, packaged sweets, snacks and breads, sodas and sweetened drinks, meat balls, chocolate bars, instant noodles and soups and any products made entirely from sugar, oil and fats come under this classification. This classification is defined solely by the opposition to the ‘unprocessed or minimally processed foods’ category constituting fresh fruits, veggies, rice, eggs, pulses and milk. Processed foods fall under different categories depending on their processing level. Details of each level with examples are given at www.firsteatright.com.
A Major Global Issue
Cancer poses a major worldwide problem and according to the World Cancer Research, almost one-third of the most common neoplasms can be curbed with proper lifestyle and diet changes. With such knowledge, since the recent few decades, the world is travelling towards the opposite end of the health spectrum by drastically increasing the consumption of highly processed foods that are perceived to be safe, convenient, highly palatable and inexpensive.
A study of around 105,000 people (mostly middle-aged women who were followed for 5 years) indicated that when people’s intake of such foods increased, the risk of developing cancer too increased. Exact numbers show that when increase in intake of ultra-processed foods rise by 10%, the number of cancers detected increased by 12%. On an average, there were 79 cancers per 10,000 people each year and increase in intake of these processed foods by 10% would cause an additional 9 cancers (summing to 88) per 10,000 people.
Other concerning elements here include, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and increased calorie consumption of foods that can also elevate the risk of cancer. The researchers did finetune their study to accommodate these triggers too! While the study can be used for further research in this field of ultra-processed foods and their association with cancer, we cannot 100% say that ultra-processed foods are a cause of cancer.
While we need to restrict consuming the above-mentioned processed foods, one need not entirely forego or slay desires for the same. Along with health foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses and dairy, we can include small portions of our desirable processed foods in our lives. To eliminate or minimize the risk of cancer, each of us must eat a well-balanced diet, do exercise regularly, avoid smoking/alcohol and be active.
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