One of the ways to reduce your risk of cancer may be simply changing your diet.
Eating “ultra-processed” foods was associated with a higher cancer risk in a study published this week in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal. Epidemiologists studied more than 100,000 participants 18 years and older, starting in 2009. People who had a 10% higher intake of these ultra-processed foods had more than a 10% increase of risk for cancers including breast cancer, the study concluded.
The study’s subjects recorded everything they ate, amounting to more than 3,300 different food items. The researchers then classified those foods according to how processed they were. Foods considered ultra-processed often have higher fat, saturated fat and added sugar and sodium, plus lower amounts of fiber and vitamins. They also may contain contaminants with carcinogenic properties, meaning they could contribute to cancer risk.
The report is timely. World Health Organization has declared Feb. 15 International Childhood Cancer Day. And this week, McDonald’s
announced changes to its children’s Happy Meals, in order to make them healthier. The restaurant chain will now only list hamburgers and chicken nuggets on its Happy Meal menu, and cheeseburgers will only be available by request (presumably to lower the amount of calories in the burger.)
But it’s not just what’s in the food. The latest study also looked at packaging. Ultra-processed foods might also be packaged with materials that also have carcinogenic properties, the researchers said. And they may contain food additives, including sodium nitrate which is often used in processed meat, or titanium dioxide, which is a white food pigment, which have been found to have some carcinogenic properties.
These foods included mass-produced breads and buns, packaged snacks, industrially-produced desserts, sodas and sweetened drinks, meatballs, nuggets made from poultry or fish, meat products that contain preservatives other than salt, instant noodles or soups, frozen or shelf-stable instant meals and hydrogenated oils.
McDonald’s, meanwhile, is also reducing the size of its French fries in the meals, from a small size to a “kids” size. Kids’ fries are 1.3 ounces and have 110 calories, and small fries are 2.6 ounces and have 230 calories. And it is working to reduce sugar in chocolate milk. Bottled water will become a drink option for kids’ meals later this year. McDonald’s has already removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets and said it will remove artificial flavors, colors from artificial sources and will reduce artificial preservatives “where feasible.”
It has partnered with a nonprofit called Alliance for Healthier Generation since 2013 to promote healthier eating.