Convenience Is Killing You, Part II

I warned you last summer: Convenience is killing us.

Last July, we warned of the health risks of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed essentially means any pre-packaged or sugary foods – including frozen meals, chips, soda, and microwavable snacks. It also includes soda drinks.

At that time, we told you that ultra-processed foods contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals added to plastic and vinyl to make them more flexible. Because of their structure, they easily leach out of the plastic into whatever the plastic contains, including our food.

Phthalates not only act as hormone disruptors, but trigger chemicals in our bodies that signal inflammation, called cytokines.

Now we have even more reason to avoid these heavily processed foods...

A new observational study from the BMJ caught our attention. Researchers studied about 105,000 French participants in a study designed to look at eating patterns and health. They specifically looked at how much of each person's diet consisted of these ultra-processed foods.

The startling result: A 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the participants' diet was connected to a 12% higher risk of cancer.

Worse, the average American consumes about 60% of their diet in ultra-processed foods. That means we're all putting ourselves in danger simply by eating these foods.

Even the American Cancer Society (ACS) agrees... According to the ACS, 18% of all cancers are due to poor nutrition.

So, we wanted to take a look at the scoring system used to determine these ultra-processed foods.

The study used a popular ranking system called NOVA that breaks foods into four categories. Category 4 is "ultra-processed." Here are some examples:

Category 1: Fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Category 2: Sugar, salt, oils, honey, butter, and lard.
Category 3: Food made by adding category 1 and 2 foods – canned vegetables, sugared nuts, canned fish, freshly baked bread, and cheese.
Category 4: Foods made with additives and preservatives. These includes cereals, soda, chicken nuggets, instant soups, desserts, and sausages.

As you can see, category 4 contains the most food you'd find at the average grocery store. And it doesn't seem right, as many of these foods are cheaper and more affordable for lower-income Americans. Does that mean lower-income homes have higher cancer risks?

Not quite. As a few editorials point out, the NOVA scale isn't perfect. In fact, the study researchers point out that the worst foods specifically for cancers include sodas, fats and sauces, and sugar-heavy products.

It's also important to remember that this was an observational study. So we don't have a true cause-and-effect. However, we already know that ultra-processed food causes inflammation. White sugar especially triggers chronic inflammation. And we know that contributes to things like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

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We also know about phthalates and other chemicals in pre-packaged food that cause harm. If you're looking to help reduce your risk, here are three steps to take today:

1. Ditch the soda for good. This is just the latest research indicating our soda habit is killing us. And diet sodas are no better – they also interfere with our insulin levels and lead to weight gain. Do what I do and get your caffeine from coffee or a nice tea. Iced tea in the afternoon is just as refreshing as that Coke.

2. Switch to nuts and air-popped popcorn. Both offer great nutritional benefits like vitamins and antioxidants. Just be sure to steer clear of microwave popcorn. It's loaded with acrylamide as well as diacetyl, which researchers think contributes to Alzheimer's disease.

3. Avoid pre-made desserts. I'm lucky to work with several bakers, so I know that homemade treats are always best so you don't get a lot of those additives. But remember to limit yourself. If you have a sweet tooth, try a few pieces of dark chocolate instead... It's especially good with fresh berries.

Making these small, simple changes will help you feel better in the long run, not only by cutting your cancer risk, but also by lowering your levels of chronic inflammation.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
Baltimore, Maryland
February 20, 2018