Going down the passageways of the supermarkets, you’ll be attracted by an array of colourful modern food, featuring packaged foods from breakfast cereals to potato chips, cookies, and chocolates. These foods are tasty but could have an alarming effect on your health.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal depicts a link between highly processes foods and certain cancers. A group of researchers based in France and Brazil found that diets higher in ultra-processed foods led to a 12% greater risk of developing cancer, and increases the risk of breast cancer by 11%. The findings are especially worrying since processed foods comprised up to 50% of the average person’s diet in many developed countries.

Ultra-processed foods include cup noodles, ready-made meals, bread and buns, biscuits, sauces, cakes, and confectionery which contain long lists of additives, preservatives, flavourings and colourings and loaded with high levels of sugar, fat, and salt.

The research was carried out in a healthy group of 104,980 French adults-28% of them men,78% of them women - with an average age of 43. The participants were tasked to respond to two online dietary questionnaires to record their intake of about 3300 different types of food items. The researchers categorized the foods according to the degree of processing, then recognized over the period of five years which people developed cancer.

Over the years, researchers have associated sugar to increased risk of cancer and heart disease, and other studies have put red and processed meats in a similar limelight.

 The researchers state that this should not mean, that “if I eat a cracker, I’m going to get cancer”. The overall message of this study was really to look at an overall diet pattern rather than a specific ingredient. People consuming more highly processed foods are mostly eating lesser healthy foods, which may help prevent cancer. So, it is highly recommended to have a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables instead of foods that have less nutritional value.

These results should be confirmed by other observational studies done in large scale in different populations and settings. Health experts noted that the study isn’t conclusive, as it is broadly accepted that a person’s diet can affect the risk of cancer. A balanced and varied diet should be considered as one of the most important health priorities. The researchers repeated the need to eat real food and limiting ultra-processed foods.