Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Colorectal Cancer

Learning to cook healthy whole-food meals from scratch is not only an important life skill that can save money, eating a nutritious diet helps protect good health and can lower the risk of developing certain chronic illnesses.  Newer studies have linked a diet high in ultra-processed foods with many health risks, including an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men. 

As recently reported by Healthline, ultra-processed foods are high in sugars, oils, and fats that can increase the risk for colorectal cancer in men, according to a new study, published in the British Medical Journal.  Men who ate large amounts of ultra-processed foods had a 29 percent greater risk of developing colorectal cancer than men who consumed small amounts of ultra-processed foods.  Researchers did not see the same increase in risk for women. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. 

Other research has also linked eating a significant amount of highly-processed foods with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and all-cause mortality. 

What are Ultra-Processed Foods?

Ultra-processed foods include soda, sausages, instant soups/noodles, packaged sweet or salty snacks, candies, biscuits, and sugary drinks.  These foods often contain high amounts of added sugar, fat, refined starches, and salt but lack nutritional fundamentals like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Highly processed foods are convenient and cheap but can lead to weight gain, one of the risk factors for colorectal cancer.  Aside from lacking proper nutrition, ultra-processed foods often contain additives that can lead to inflammation of the gut microbiome, contributing to a higher risk for colorectal cancer.  

By helping promote the idea that healthy food is medicine, researchers hope to educate people about the many benefits of a nutritious, whole-food-based diet.  Providing access to fresh produce for vulnerable groups could also help prevent many health problems.  With greater awareness about the dangers of processed foods, and increased regulation of marketing, and large subsidies given to food processing corporations, more people will be able to afford good quality food and understand its value.