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Are Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Certain Cancers?

Jaime Alnassim

Online Coaching | Strength & Conditioning

August 12, 2021

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Do you believe our current food supply has increased incidences of certain cancers compared to years ago? For myself, when people say the ‘current food supply’ I think of processed and ultra-processed foods. “A processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation. Food processing can be as basic as: freezing. Canning” (1). “Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats” (Katherine 2020). 

There are (Epidemiological) studies from as early as the 1960s that showed cancer rates varied and that cancer rates grow in countries around the same rate as equal or sometimes exceed the rates of the population. This could imply the importance of environmental causes of cancer, and other studies showed strong correlations between many types of cancer and dietary factors. (Key 2020)

One study found that the amount of ultra-processed with US Youths Aged 2-19 Years over the years 1999-2018 found that, “the estimated percentage of total energy consumed from ultra-processed foods increased from 61.4% to 67.0%, whereas the percentage of total energy consumed from unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreased from 28.8% to 23.5%” (Wang 2021). “… a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of overall and breast cancer” (Fiolet 2018).

Stomach cancer: This with the highest rates in eastern Asia where people eat large amounts of salted foods, such as salt-preserved fish, which is associated with an increased risk

Colorectal cancer: Overweight and obesity increase risk, along with alcohol and smoking.

Liver cancer: Alcohol is the main diet-related risk factor for liver cancer.

Pancreatic cancer: Obesity increases the risk by about 20% and diabetes is also associated with increased risk.

Lung cancer: Heavy smoking is the main cause.

Breast cancer: Obesity increases breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.

Prostate cancer: The well-established risk factors are age, family history, black ethnicity, and genetic factors.

In a quick summary, Further studies are needed to better understand the relative effect of ultra-processed foods and cancer. However, at the moment, there are looking to be some very big links and the overall fact ultra-processed foods are not as nutritional-filled as traditional foods (Marti 2019).


  1. “Eating Processed Foods.” Nhs Choices, NHS,
  2. Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Deschasaux M, Fassier P, Latino-Martel P, Beslay M, Hercberg S, Lavalette C, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ. 2018 Feb 14;360:k322. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k322. PMID: 29444771; PMCID: PMC5811844.
  1. Katherine D. McManus, MS. “What Are Ultra-Processed Foods and Are They Bad for Our Health?” Harvard Health, 9 Jan. 2020,
  1. Key, T. J., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Sinha, R., Tsilidis, K. K., & Tsugane, S. (2020). Diet, nutrition, and cancer risk: what do we know and what is the way forward?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 368, m511.
  1. Marti A. (2019). Ultra-Processed Foods Are Not “Real Food” but Really Affect Your Health. Nutrients, 11(8), 1902.
  1. Wang L, Martínez Steele E, Du M, et al. Trends in Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods Among US Youths Aged 2-19 Years, 1999-2018. JAMA. 2021;326(6):519–530. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.10238

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