According to recent studies, eating a lot of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) may raise your chance of developing mouth and throat cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the University of Bristol in the UK worked together to compile the study, which involved examining the lives and eating patterns of around 500,000 people over a ten-year period. The study found that there was a higher risk of head, neck, and esophageal cancers among people who consumed more UPFs, such as candies, potato chips, breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and fizzy beverages.
The risk was assessed to be 24% greater for esophageal cancer and 23% higher for head and neck cancer.
The scientists suggested that other factors, such as the quantity of additives in UPFs, were more likely to be to blame than just higher body fat percentages. Nevertheless, the researchers also pointed out that more research is required and that the study might contain biases.
As the association with accidental deaths draws attention to, Professor George Davey Smith, one of the study’s co-authors, noted, “UPFs are clearly associated with many adverse health outcomes, but whether they actually cause these, or whether underlying factors like general health-related behaviors and socioeconomic position are responsible for the link, is still unclear.”
Processed foods and the risk of cancer
There have been numerous studies that have connected processed foods to a higher risk of cancer. Another Imperial School of Public Health study published in February 2023 connected UPFs to an increased risk of cancer in general, including ovarian and breast cancer.
The study’s first author, Kiara Chang, PhD, said that “our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods.”
“On the other hand, highly processed foods are widely available and heavily advertised, offering affordable prices and appealing packaging to encourage consumption,” the speaker went on. “This demonstrates the urgent need for reform in our food system to shield the public from highly processed foods.”
Additionally, studies have connected processed meat products to a higher risk of prostate and colorectal cancer. Even foods like ham, sausages, and bacon are categorized as Group One carcinogens by the World Health Organization.
The established advantages of complete, plant-based foods
Plant-based whole foods, such as beans, vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, tofu, and grains, have been associated with a lower risk of cancer and other illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes, in contrast to UPFs.
According to Jacqueline Wyman, MS, RDN, CDN, “whole foods offer the full impact of fiber and protein along with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants” (VegNews).
She goes on, “You will definitely get the recommended 25–38 grams of fiber per day when choosing a plant-based diet because all plant foods include fiber.” “Well-formed, easily passed bowel movements are essential for eliminating excess cholesterol from the body, along with metabolites of estrogen and other toxins. Fiber is necessary for these things.”
She agrees that UPFs appear to do more harm than benefit, as the aforementioned studies show. “In 2020, a systematic review found that 37 out of 43 studies linked UPF consumption to at least one adverse health consequence,” the spokesperson said. “Overweight, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, IBS, depression, and mortality were associated with UPFs.”
The USDA claims that if UPFs are primarily vegan, they would not be as bad for human health (consider canned baked beans, for example). This is probably due to the fact that they are high in macronutrients and micronutrients yet frequently contain lower levels of added sugar and saturated fat.
There is additional evidence that substituting plant-based meat for processed animal meat lowers the risk of heart disease.
However, it’s crucial to remember that whole, minimally processed, plant-based foods will probably always be superior in terms of health. This isn’t simply due to fiber; plants also contain a lot of antioxidants, which may assist the body combat dangerous free radicals (damage from free radicals can result in disease).
“Simple ingredient substitutions at home are the first step toward disease prevention and healthy living,” Fresh Nutrition Counseling’s owner, Dima Salhoobi, RD, CDN, MS, told VegNews. “The basic choices we make on a daily basis about what we put into our bodies have the power to either positively or negatively impact our health.”