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How overly processed foods are linked to cancer and hormonal disruption. (Op-Ed)

Hot or cold packaged snacks, pre-packaged meals, sweets, and sodas are undeniably delicious, easy to grab on the go, and filling. However, they are ultra-processed foods. They generally have long lists of ingredients, many of which you won’t recognize, much less be able to pronounce, like substances for bulking, de-foaming, emulsifying, and bleaching. Ultra-processed food and drinks are indirectly linked to cancer risk and hormonal disruption due to increased levels of sugar and sodium, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Lindsey Wohlford, a wellness dietician, says “Ultra-processed foods often contain added oils, fats, starches, protein substances or enzymes, flavorings and preservatives, and a lot of salt and sugar. Many of those ingredients, if you saw them on their own, would not resemble any kind of food. They are included to create textures or flavors that are highly palatable.” The processed nature of these foods takes away most of the nutritional value. They are easy to digest, and that makes blood sugar spike. Even those that are “fortified with natural nutrients” are still unhealthy. Yet, most of America consumes them on a fairly regular basis. Hormonal imbalances can also occur, which leads to hormonal-based cancers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in collaboration with the University of Vienna (Austria), found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. They found that animal-based products and artificially sweetened beverages (soda) are the biggest offenders. Industrially manufactured foods with added ingredients or additives (i.e. modified starch, hydrogenated oils) that are typically not found in homemade meals, are to blame. This includes processed meat, frozen or shelf-stable dishes, and sweetened breakfast cereals.

According to North Valley Women’s Care, “When you eat sugar and processed foods, they affect hormone function by increasing inflammation and stress to the adrenal glands, putting you at risk of unintentional weight gain and severe hormonal imbalance.” Poor nutrition also leads to hormone imbalances. The most common forms of hormonal cancer are breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers account for 75% of new breast cancer diagnoses as of 2022.

Highly processed foods are found everywhere — grocery stores, gas stations, Walmart, etc. While you may not be able to completely cut out your favorite snacks from your diet, it’s a good idea to scale back on your consumption of ultra-processed foods. These foods may be edible, but they aren’t real food. Always read nutritional labels and work towards educating yourself on healthy alternatives; your health is at stake.

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