Ultra-processed food could raise cancer risk – 5 of the worst to avoid
By Ella Walker . Published 2020-09-06
We look at some of the worst processed foods and what you can swap them for.
Those of us Boldies in our 50s and over remember a time when our mother's and grandparents cooked and baked much of the food we ate. There are many studies that have shown that eating foods that have been ‘ultra processed’ could increase your risk of cancer.
According to researchers from the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Sao Paulo, in some developed countries processed foods make up around 50% of an average person’s diet, and this could be contributing to rising cancer levels. In fact, a 10% increase in eating ultra-processed food was associated with a 12% increased risk of overall cancer.
So what are the worst offenders when it comes to processed foods? And how can you replace them in your diet?
1. Fizzy drinks
Carbonated soft drinks are not only highly processed, they’re also pretty much void of any nutritional value. They might be tasty, but they’re full of sugar, contain chemicals, additives and colourings, and tend to leave you more dehydrated than before you drank them.
Swap it for: Fruit juice (a glass counts as one of your five a day), herbal tea, water.
Cereal, particularly those aimed at children, tends to be high in sugar, and is essentially highly processed carbohydrates. Always check the label and look out for cereals that are high in fibre and low in sugar, as these are far better options and should fill you up in the morning (add some fresh fruit for healthy bonus points).
Swap it for: Porridge, scrambled or boiled eggs, muesli.
Whether it’s birthday cake or a slice for afternoon tea, we’re a nation of cake lovers. Shop bought cakes may look delicious, but inside they’re often stuffed with sugar, fat, additives, salt and preservatives. At least if you bake one yourself you know exactly what goes into it.
Swap it for: Baking your own (baking has been found to be good for your mental health), dark chocolate, fruit and nuts, rice cakes, veg sticks and hummus.
4. Packaged bread
While we might like the idea of buying freshly baked bread from the bakery each morning, the majority of us plump for a bag of pre-packaged sliced white from the supermarket. The problem is, this stuff is generally high in sugar and salt, and low on the fibre front. Compare that to sourdough, which tastes better and is proven to boost gut health, and you might want to step away from the supermarket bread aisle.
Swap it for: Homemade/bakery-fresh sourdough, wholegrain bread, oat cakes, wholewheat pasta, brown rice.
5. Processed meat
We’re often told that consuming large quantities of red meat (high in saturated fat) is bad for our cholesterol and heart health, but processed meat can be just as bad. Bacon, sausages, ham, chorizo and canned meat – any meat that has been salted, cured or smoked – has carcinogenic properties.
Swap it for: Grilled chicken, grilled fish, or veggie alternatives like slabs of aubergine or mushroom. Or if you do have red meat, make sure it’s good quality.
Nobody least of all TheBoldAge is saying don't enjoy your bacon sarnie, just think about making it a treat every now and again. You'll enjoy it even more when you have it.
- BDA Association of UK Dietitians
- Obesity UK