NOVEL study data published has demonstrated that males who consume large quantities of ultra-processed foods are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC) than males who do not. Notably, the increased risk associated with pre-cooked instant meals was not found in females.
Researchers analysed patient responses of over 200,000 participants pulled from three prospective studies examining dietary intake. Participants undertook a food frequency questionnaire every 4 years, which assessed the consumption frequency of 130 different foods. This data allowed the researchers to classify the participants into quintiles from lowest to highest consumption. Males in the highest quintile for ultra-processed food consumption were identified as being the most at risk for developing CRC.
“Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for CRC. Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fibre, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for CRC,” stated lead study author Lu Wang, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA.
Deeper analysis of the results found that the strongest association between CRC risk in males was with consumption of ultra-processed meats, including sausages, bacon, and ham. Further links were found between CRC risk and higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. Overall, there was no link between ultra-processed food consumption and CRC risk in females. The researchers hypothesised that this could be due to different patterns of consumption between females and males.
Previous work published by Wang and their research team identified a trend of increased ultra-processed food consumption in the USA, citing reasons such as food access and convenience, and underscoring the fact that many families depend upon ultra-processed long-life foods.
“Chemically processing foods can aid in extending shelf life, but many processed foods are less healthy than unprocessed alternatives. We need to make consumers aware of the risks associated with consuming unhealthy foods in quantity and make the healthier options easier to choose instead,” stated co-senior author Fang Fang Zhang, who is also from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.