A new study published in the journal The BMJ reveals that ultraprocessed foods increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and premature death. The study was published by researchers from Italy and Tufts University, and it included 46,341 men and 159,907 women participants.

Ultraprocessed Foods Linked to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and Premature Death

The authors of the study defined ultraprocessed foods to include frozen pizza, sauces, prepackaged soups, hot dogs, sausages, French fries, sodas, cookies, candies, cakes, ice creams, potato chips, sugary beverages, salami, fast food, energy drinks,  white bread, corned beef, and even breakfast cereals among others. The researchers found these extra-refined foods are linked to obesity, cancer, heart disease, and untimely mortality.

“Ultraprocessed foods are unambiguously associated with an increased risk for chronic disease,” said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

The researchers tracked the participants for 28 years and established links between ultraprocessed foods and colorectal cancer in men, but the risks of colorectal cancer in women were almost non-existent based on metabolic and sex hormones among other factors.

“Reasons for such a sex difference are still unknown, but may involve the different roles that obesity, sex hormones, and metabolic hormones play in men versus women,” said co-senior author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist and chair of the division of nutrition epidemiology and data science at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

The scientists also established that women may consume ultraprocessed foods that are deemed healthier than what men consume to account for their lower risks of colorectal cancer.

“Some ultraprocessed foods are healthier, such as whole-grain foods that contain little or no added sugars, and yogurt and dairy foods,” Zhang said. “We should consider substituting the ultraprocessed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diet for cancer prevention and prevention of obesity and cardiovascular diseases.”

A gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Dr. Robin Mendelsohn, said ultraprocessed foods are usually high in extra sugars and salt and filled with chemical additives such as stabilizers, flavors, and artificial colors. She said some ultraprocessed foods are healthier than others, but it is best to avoid all junk foods to be on the safe side and to focus on eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, and natural organic foods prepared at home.