Two recent studies establish an association between the high consumption of industrial foods rich in fat, sugar and salt and an increased risk of several cancers.
About half of all calories currently consumed by the population come from ultra-processed foods. These foods are pure industrial creations, made from a panoply of inexpensive ingredients (fat, sugar, salt, various additives) and methodically arranged to be attractive, easy to access and be kept for long periods of time. The greatest revolution brought about by these ultra-processed industrial products, however, has been to succeed in concentrating the energy contained in food to unprecedented levels, several times higher than in foods coming from nature.
- 1 Calorie bombs that promote nutritional deficiencies
- 2 Ultra-processed foods: saturated fats, salt and excess sugars are the bed of several cancers
- 3 Women: Breast, uterine, gallbladder, esophagus and pancreatic cancers on the rise
Calorie bombs that promote nutritional deficiencies
A simple treat, swallowed in seconds, is a real energy bomb that can contain more calories than a full meal, while a simple fast food trio eaten on the go (sometimes even in the car) can almost alone meet the caloric needs of an entire day. This high caloric density of foods, combined with their nutritional poverty, is responsible for one of the great paradoxes of modern nutrition: it is now possible to overeat to the point of becoming obese, while being deficient in several essential nutrients and protective phytochemicals.
Ultra-processed foods: saturated fats, salt and excess sugars are the bed of several cancers
The danger of this type of food is well highlighted by the results of two studies carried out in Europe and the United States.
In the first, researchers looked at the eating habits of 471,495 adults living in 10 European countries and determined the quality of their diets using the NutriScore system. This system assigns a letter ranging from A to E to a processed food (A being the best quality and E the worst) by
taking into account its high content of good nutrients (fiber, protein, fruits and vegetables) and its low content of nutrients to limit (saturated fats, sugars, salt).
Using this score, the researchers were able to observe that people who consumed the most foods of poor nutritional quality had a higher risk of various cancers, in particular those of the stomach (25% increase), upper digestive tract (21%), liver (17%) and colon (11%). Overall, the total risk of cancer is increased by 7% in people who eat the most low-quality ultra-processed foods, which shows how harmful these foods can be.
Women: Breast, uterine, gallbladder, esophagus and pancreatic cancers on the rise
In the other study, which followed 92,295 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 for 15 years, the researchers examined the link between the energy density of the diet and the risk of developing one of 12 cancers whose incidence is increased by obesity (including breast, colorectal, uterus, kidney, gallbladder, esophagus and pancreas). They observed that caloric density was associated with an increased risk of obesity, with a BMI of 29 for those whose diets were richest in calorie-dense foods, and that this excess weight was associated with a parallel increase in 10% risk of developing any of the obesity-related cancers.
Cooking your meals from natural ingredients remains the best way to reduce the risks associated with the overconsumption of ultra-processed industrial foods. It is not because a person eats three times a year at the local fast food restaurant that he becomes obese or sick, but rather because he eats it three times a week!
Deschasaux M et al. Nutritional quality of food as represented by the FSAm-NPS nutrient profiling system underlying the Nutri-Score label and cancer risk in Europe: Results from the EPIC prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2018; 15: e1002651.
Thomson CA et al. Association between dietary energy density and obesity-associated cancer: results from the Women’s Health Initiative. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2018; 118: 617-626.
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