One of the most comprehensive studies of its kind confirmed what researchers have long suspected. A diet high in ultraprocessed foods increases the risk of colorectal cancer in men, contributes to heart disease, and shortens lifespan.

What Are Ultraprocessed Foods?

Ultraprocessed foods include a range of commercial products, including soup, deli meats, and many frozen foods like pizza and frozen meals, plus hot dogs, sausage, soda, and ice cream. The category includes dozens of foods that have been staples of the modern Western diet and are served in schools, homes, and restaurants.

This research is the product of two large studies involving more than 200,000 men and women dating back as long as 28 years. The most pronounced correlation linked ultraprocessed foods with colorectal cancer in men, a disease that is now the third-most diagnosed cancer in the United States.

Processed meats like ham, turkey, salami, hot dogs and jerky have been long been associated with deleterious health effects including bowel cancer in men and women. This new study, however, expands the risk to hundreds of additional ultraprocessed foods that represent some of the most common commercially successful food products in the US.

Roughly 58% of the average American adult’s diet is processed foods. 67% of an American child’s diet is processed foods, with parents reliant on snack bars, chips, pretzels and crackers for fast and convenient fare for toddlers.

Processed foods affect men more severely, though researchers believe men may choose more processed meats and snack foods than women. For men, the correlation between diet and colorectal cancer is clear; men whose processed food intake placed them in the highest 1/5th of total processed food consumption had a 29% increased risk compared to those in the lowest 1/5th.

According to a study in Italy, diets high in processed foods are also linked to early death. Researchers compared a diet high in sugar, fats, and trans fats with a diet in high in ultraprocessed foods. They found that ultra-processed foods were much more likely to increase mortality risk.

Why Are Processed Foods So Unhealthy?

A 2019 study compared unprocessed and processed foods to attempt to learn how bad ultraprocessed foods are.  It found that participants on the processed diet ate more food more quickly at each meal and gained 2 pounds while on the ultraprocessed diet; weight they lost after switching to an unprocessed diet as a part of the study.

Processed foods include relatively normal ingredients like sugar and fat, but often in various forms like high fructose corn syrup, chemical additives, artificial flavors, and more. While it’s not completely understood why these food ingredients have such a negative impact, researchers believe the link between ultraprocessed foods and health are clear.

Cancer Prevention And Diet – A Vital Tool

Diet plays a crucial role in cancer prevention and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Less Cancer works to educate medical professionals, communities organizations and parents to prioritize healthy eating, especially in children. Make a nutritious diet a part of your cancer prevention plan and opt for fresh fruits and veggies instead of boxed foods whenever possible.