Highly processed foods are considered harmful to health. But that cannot be confirmed in general. A current “Lancet” study shows that those who consume more of it increase their risk of cancer. But it is interesting that it is mainly due to two drinks.

Cakes or salty snacks, industrially produced bread or breakfast cereals, ready meals or fruit drinks – all of these often end up on our plates. The highly or industrially processed foods are often practical because they make eating quicker and they often taste good too. In a large study with a good 200,000 participants from the UK Biobank, British researchers looked at how they affect the risk of cancer. They published their results in the journal “eClinicalMedicine – Part of The Lancet Discovery Science”.

However, the food can by no means all be thrown into one pot – to stay in the picture. Therefore, the current study took a detailed look at the individual food groups. The result is “very revealing”, judges Martin Smollich on Twitter. The nutritionist from the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) summarizes it: “This makes it clear: The negative effect of highly processed foods (assuming causality!) is essentially an effect of soft drinks and juices. Other products (e.g. plant-based meat alternatives) play no role here at all.”

This fits with the findings of the experts at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). They have been issuing recommendations for years to reduce personal cancer risk. After that, drinks sweetened with sugar should be completely eliminated from the menu. Because the increasing consumption of sugary drinks contributes to the worldwide increase in obesity. This in turn increases the risk of many types of cancer.

The scientists write: “There is strong evidence that increased body fat mass is a cause of many cancers: mouth, throat and larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, colon, breast (postmenopausal), ovaries, endometrium, prostate and kidney.” Processed foods are also on her cross-off list.

“These associations persisted after adjustment for a number of important socioeconomic, behavioral, and dietary factors,” the study authors write. What is new about their study, compared to previous ones, is that they looked at the incidence and mortality for 34 different types of cancer.

Like most studies in the field of nutrition, this one has its limitations. There is no causal relationship between diet and cancer risk, only a correlation (statistical relationship).

Various other weaknesses are discussed by users in social networks. These cannot be dismissed out of hand. The nutritionist Smollich also admits this. His main concern is that the group of highly processed foods is viewed in a differentiated manner. After all, despite the adjustment for socioeconomic factors, a distortion would remain: people who consume a lot of highly processed foods would have a different lifestyle than people who cooked with fresh vegetables every day. And sums up: “Lifestyle has a very significant influence on the risk of cancer – even beyond nutrition.”

Ultimately, this study does not provide any reason to generally demonize highly processed foods or especially juices and soft drinks. Because the causality for an increased risk of cancer is not given. But it can be a reason to take a critical look at your own diet and lifestyle in general.

Because nutrition is a very central point in preventing cancer – even if even the healthiest lifestyle does not provide guaranteed protection. But unhealthy eating combined with a lack of exercise is a cause of obesity. At the same time, it is an avoidable risk factor for cancer.

The experts at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) therefore have specific recommendations for a diet plan to prevent cancer:

Point 1: wholesome nutrition

Lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes should form the basis of your daily diet. Important: the scientists recommend 400 grams of vegetables and fruit and at least 30 grams of dietary fiber.

Point 2: Little fast food and processed foods

They contain a lot of fat, sugar and starch, which promotes obesity.

Point 3: Little red meat and sausages

Beef, lamb and pork, sausages: Red meat should be served in no more than three portions per week. This corresponds to 350 to a maximum of 500 grams. It should be particularly little of the processed meat, i.e. all sausage products.

Point 4: No sodas and sweetened drinks

The experts only recommend unsweetened drinks to cover the fluid requirement, i.e. water, tea or coffee without sugar. They warn, “Fruit juices should not be consumed in large quantities as, even without added sugar, they may promote weight gain similar to sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Point 5: Avoid alcohol

In order to prevent cancer, experts recommend abstaining from alcohol. Alcohol is considered to be the cause of various types of cancer.

Those who maintain an active lifestyle, do not smoke and protect themselves from the sun are supplementing important ingredients to reduce their risk of cancer.