Eating too many ready meals could raise your risk of at least three types of cancer by almost 25%, study suggests | The Sun

ULTRA-processed foods (UPF) make up a large part of the average Brit's diet but they've been linked to poor health and an increased risk of developing cancer.

Now, new research has linked these staples – which are steeped in additives, preservatives and sweeteners – to three different types of the disease.

It can be hard to know what classifies as an ultra-processed meal, but you'll generally be able to spot one by looking at the label of a product.

If it contains five or more ingredients that you wouldn't recognise or use when cooking at home, the food in your hand in likely highly processed.

Though not all are bad for you, consuming lots of ice cream, crisps, biscuits, fizzy drinks, ready meals and fruity-flavoured yoghurts has been linked obesity, as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Bristol and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that eating more UPFs may be associated with a higher risk of developing cancers in the upper aerodigestive tract.

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This includes mouth, throat and oesophageal adenocarcinoma – cancer of the oesophagus.

Researchers analysed diet and lifestyle data from 450,111 adults over the course of 14 years.

Published in the European Journal of Nutrition, the study sought to pinpoint whether these cancers could be explained by an increase in body fat.

The team found that eating 10 per cent more UPFs was associated with a 23 per cent higher risk of head and neck cancer and a 24 per cent higher risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

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Increased body fat only went a small way in explaining the link between UPF consumption and the risk of these three cancers, researchers noted.

Fernanda Morales-Berstein, a Wellcome Trust PhD student at the University of Bristol and the study’s lead author, said: “UPFs have been associated with excess weight and increased body fat in several observational studies.

"This makes sense, as they are generally tasty, convenient and cheap, favouring the consumption of large portions and an excessive number of calories.

"However, it was interesting that in our study the link between eating UPFs and upper-aerodigestive tract cancer didn’t seem to be greatly explained by body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio.”

Instead, researchers said additives like emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners often found in UPFs – which have been previously linked to the risk of cancer – could be a behind these foods' heightened disease risk.

Another cause could be contaminants picked up from the snacks' packaging or during the manufacturing process.

The research team also noted a link between higher UPF consumption and increased risk of accidental deaths, which led them to believe their findings could be affected by certain types of bias.

George Davey Smith, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Director of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, and co-author on the paper, said: “UPFs are clearly associated with many adverse health outcomes.

"Yet whether they actually cause these, or whether underlying factors such as general health-related behaviours and socioeconomic position are responsible for the link, is still unclear, as the association with accidental deaths draws attention to.”

The team said further research was needed to explain the exact cause of higher incidences of cancer in people who ate more UPFs.

Inge Huybrechts, from the lifestyle exposures and interventions team at IARC, noted that data on the study participants' diets was collected in the 1990s, "when the consumption of UPFs was still relatively low".

The team findings that obesity might not be why people eating more UPFs suffer higher rates of cancer had further implications, they said.

Lead author Dr Morales-Berstein said losing weight might not be the best way to cut the risk of these three cancers.

She explained: “Focusing solely on weight loss treatment, such as semaglutide (the ingredient contained in Wegovy and Ozempic) is unlikely to greatly contribute to the prevention of upper-aerodigestive tract cancers related to eating UPFs.”

Meanwhile, Dr Helen Croker, assistant director of research and policy at World Cancer Research Fund, said the findings supported their recommendations to "eat a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans".

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