It is not the first time that a relationship has been described between the consumption of ultra-processed foods −made mainly with industrial ingredients− and various health damages. Two studies published this week in the journal British Medical Journal (The BMJ) continue in this line and warn of their risk.
The first investigation, an observational study carried out in the USA, has found that in men the consumption of high rates of these foods increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The research has included more than 200,000 participants, who were followed for nearly three decades.
The authors, researchers from Tufts University and Harvard University, both in Boston (USA), have observed that the risk of developing this type of tumor was 29% higher in men who consumed highly processed foods and drinks in large quantities, compared to those who used them less. In women, on the other hand, the same trend has not been found.
“Cancer takes years or even decades to develop, so it takes a long time to see a possible effect of consuming ultra-processed foods on its occurrence,” explains Mingyang Song, co-senior author and professor at Harvard. “That’s why it’s important to do long-term follow-up,” he adds.
“Processed meats are a strong risk factor for this disease. In addition, foods made primarily from industrial ingredients are high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contributes to weight gain and the risk of developing obesity, an established risk factor for colorectal cancer,” says Lu Wang. , first author of the study and researcher at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.
The results revealed differences in the ways men and women consume highly processed foods and the possible associated cancer risk. Among the more than 206,000 participants, the research team documented 1,294 colorectal tumor cases among men and 1,922 among women.
The team found that the strongest association between neoplasia and ultra-processed foods seen in men came from ready-to-eat products based on meat, chicken or fish.
“These include some processed meats like sausage, bacon, ham, and fish cakes. Which is consistent with our hypothesis”, says Wang. In addition, the researchers observed that a higher consumption of sugary drinks, such as soft drinks or industrial fruit juices, is also associated with a higher risk of developing this disease in men.
Overall, there was no evidence of a relationship between ultraprocessed food consumption and colorectal cancer risk among women. “The reason for this discrepancy is not yet clear, but it is possible that the composition of the food consumed by men and women is different,” Wang tells SINC.
“Further studies will be needed to determine if there really is a difference due to sex or if the lack of association between colorectal cancer and the consumption of these foods registered in women is due to other possible factors”, adds Song.
Change dietary patterns
The second study, based on data on eating habits and health information of 22,895 Italians -with an average age of 55 years and 48% men- between 2005 and 2019, shows that those individuals with a diet that had more processed foods had a 19% higher risk of death from any cause and up to a 32% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who ate healthier.
The authors of the two new works consider that, given all the evidence already accumulated on their harmful effects, measures should be implemented to limit the consumption of certain types of ultra-processed foods, promote healthier diets and reformulate dietary recommendations paying more attention to the level of processing .
“Chemical processing of food can help extend its shelf life,” explains Zhang, “But many foods and drinks made from industrial ingredients are less healthy than their unprocessed alternatives,” he adds. “We need to make the population aware of the risks associated with consuming large amounts of unhealthy foods, and make it easier to choose healthier options,” warns the epidemiologist.
The authors hope that these data will contribute to favoring changes in dietary recommendations and regulations. “However, a long-term transformation will require a multi-step approach,” says Wang. “It is important to continue studying the link between these diseases and diet, as well as possible interventions that could help improve dietary habits in the population.” overall,” he concludes.