You know those chicken nuggets with a sort of strange white stuff in the middle that doesn’t much resemble chicken?
You might want to avoid them.
That’s because a European study of what are called ultra-processed foods — basically, stuff made in factories with ingredients not usually found in home kitchens — has found they may be linked to cancer.
The study, carried out in France and published in the British Medical Journal, looked at the medical records and eating habits of nearly 105,000 adults who have kept track of their consumption of 3,300 different food items for almost nine years.
Ultra-processed foods include such items as instant noodles, TV dinners, factory-made baked goods, sodas and pretty much anything whose packaging contains long lists of additives, preservatives, flavorings and colorings. The foods also tend to contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt.
The researchers found that a 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods was linked to a 12% rise in cancers.
“If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades,” the researchers said in the British Medical Journal.
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“The results are very strong — very consistent and quite compelling,” Mathilde Touvier, lead author of the study, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “But we have to be cautious. … These results need to be confirmed in other prospective studies.”
In part this is because processed foods are also associated with obesity, which has been linked to cancer risks, Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, told the BBC.
“It’s already known that eating a lot of these foods can lead to weight gain,” she said, “and being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of cancer, so it’s hard to disentangle the effects of diet and weight.”
Consumers of such foods are also more likely to smoke, be less active and ingest more calories, she added.