People who regularly eat foods with a low nutritional quality have a higher risk of developing cancer.
The study authors state that more countries should now enforce food labeling that clearly specifies nutritional value.
Countries need to implement better policies for food labeling so that consumers understand what they are buying.
The British Food Standards Agency developed their nutrient profiling system (FSAm-NPS) as a way to ensure that people are able to clearly see what the nutritional value is of any food product.
The system allows people to make informed dietary choices and be able to tell healthful foods from those with fewer or no benefits.
France and, more recently, Belgium have also adopted systems similar to the FSAm-NPS, but many regions are yet to implement similar schemes.
Now, a set of worrying findings that link an increased risk of cancer with the consumption of foods that have a low nutritional quality may offer solid enough evidence for policy-makers to push for a more widespread use of nutrient profiling in food labeling.
The new study was conducted by Mélanie Deschasaux, at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Paris, in collaboration with specialists from numerous other research institutions.
Deschasaux and colleagues published the results of their research in the journal PLOS Medicine.
The investigators analyzed data collected from 471,495 participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.
The median follow-up period was 15.3 years, and the volunteers provided information about their dietary habits as well as other relevant medical information, including cancer history.
Of all the participants, 49,794 had been diagnosed with cancer, of which 12,063 had breast cancer, 6,745 had prostate cancer, and 5,806 had colorectal cancer.
Based on the information provided, the scientists calculated the associations between foods with various nutritional qualities and the risk of developing cancer.
In the study paper, Deschasaux and colleagues report that the participants who “[consumed] on average food products with a lower nutritional quality, were at higher risk of developing cancer overall.”
More specifically, regular consumption of foods with low nutritional quality was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and cancer of the upper aero-digestive tract and stomach, as well as with lung cancer in the case of men.
For women, in particular, eating foods that are low in nutrients is tied to a higher risk of liver cancer as well as postmenopausal breast cancer.
The main limitation of the study was that it analyzed data that were self-reported by participants, so they may not have been fully accurate.
However, the authors also explain that the study’s strength lies in its size and the wealth of information that the team had access to and was able to evaluate.
“To our knowledge, this study was the first effort to investigate the association between the FSAm-NPS [Dietary Index] and disease in a large European cohort,” the authors write.
Deschasaux and team think that their new findings are solid enough to call for the implementation of better policies in more countries regarding how foods are labeled.
“This [study],” the researchers claim, “supports the relevance of the FSAm-NPS as [an] underlying nutrient profiling system for front-of-pack nutrition labels, as well as for other public health nutritional measures.”
Meanwhile, a ten-point ‘blueprint to beat cancer’ can cut the chance of getting the disease by up to 40 per cent, experts revealed at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna in May.
In the biggest analysis of its kind, experts warned junk food, ready meals and red meat should be eaten only in moderation in favour of a diet that is rich in wholegrain, fruit and vegetables.
The World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations are based on analysis of research involving 51 million people and 17 types of cancer.
Dr. Giota Mitrou, from the WCRF said: “Individuals need to follow as many of these recommendations as possible, not just some of them.”
The researchers’ ten-point plan included:
*Keep a healthy weight
*Cut town on ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars such as pre-prepared dishes, snacks, bakery foods, desserts and sweets
*No more than three portions of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb, a week (350-500g). Eat little, if any, processed meat
Cover Photo: Junk food. Photo: guardian.ng