• Cancer

    Mayo Clinic Minute: Is there a connection between ultraprocessed food and cancer?

There is a growing body of evidence that shows ultraprocessed foods are not only unhealthy but increase the risk of cancers. The term ultraprocessed food was created as a way to categorize food, known as the NOVA classification. The system allows experts to better understand the health impact of different food categories. 

Mayo Clinic's Dr. Dawn Mussallem talks more about the connection between ultraprocessed food and cancer.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (1:07) is in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

"The average American in the United States consumes at least 63% ultraprocessed foods," says Dr. Mussallem.

She says vegetables only account for 12% of the average American diet – and half of those vegetables consumed are processed.

"We know that ultraprocessed foods are linked directly to premature mortality or deaths."

They also are linked to colorectal, ovarian and breast cancer. 

"Studies are showing us is that not only do the ultraprocessed foods increase the risk of cancer, but that after a cancer diagnosis such foods increase the risk of dying," Dr. Mussallem says.

What qualifies as ultraprocessed food?

"Ultraprocessed foods would be things in a package — things like crackers, and pastries and cupcakes and muffins, processed meat," she says.

They include ingredients you can’t bring into your own kitchen.

"With those ultraprocessed foods, you're getting chemicals and additives that likely are very risky for cancer survivors," says Dr. Mussallem.

Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Eat whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for optimal health benefits.

Colorful vegetables from a farmers market, a great alternative to ultraprocessed food
Enjoy fresh vegetables from your local farmers market

Need help with recipe ideas to avoid ultraprocessed food and cancer risks? Check out these recipes from Mayo Clinic:

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