HOUSTON – Two new studies are supporting yet again how bad ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks are for our health – especially for men.

The two large studies were conducted in the US and in Italy. They were published in the British medical journal The BMJ. Like previous studies, the latest results link a diet high in ultra-processed food to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and death.

Men who consumed more than nine servings of ultra-processed food had a 29% higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to men who ate three daily servings.

The US-based study has found these foods are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer deaths in men. Here are the numbers:

  • The study followed 200,000 U.S. healthcare workers, both men and women.
  • The researchers looked at data for up to 28 years.
  • They found men who consumed more than nine servings of ultra-processed food had a 29% higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to men who ate three daily servings.

The researchers did not find the same high bowel cancer risk for women. However, the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research have long been associated a higher risk of bowel cancer with these foods in both men and women. Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the US.

What are ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods are foods that are deconstructed, altered, and recombined with additives. They are alternatives to fresh produce or freshly prepared meals.

They are made and marketed as convenient, ready to eat foods, they are usually affordable, and tasty.

Most ultra-processed foods are high in fat, sugar, and salt. They are poor in fiber and micronutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The examples researchers listed are:

  • Sugary and fizzy drinks, including milks with added sugars and “fruit” juices
  • Packaged snacks
  • Commercial breads, cakes, and biscuits
  • Sweetened breakfast “cereals”
  • Sugared milk based and “fruit” drinks
  • Margarine
  • Pre-processed ready-to-eat or heat products such as burgers, pastas, and pizzas
  • Processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami, hotdogs, beef jerky and corned beef

Long list of diseases and health concerns linked to processed foods

Other health concerns at a higher risk due to a consumption high in ultra-processed foods that could lead to earlier death includes:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases
  • Depression

Not so healthy alternatives

How about replacing the sugar with an artificial sweetener or switching to those “healthy” processed foods? Authors of the study say that is a no go.

The US investigators state that: “Beyond poor nutrition profiles, ultra-processed foods commonly contain food additives such as dietary emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners, some types of which have been suggested to increase the pro-inflammatory potential of the gut microbiome, promoting colon carcinogenesis.”

You can read more on this study at www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj.o1972.