Fast food, chips, chocolates, sweets, cakes, and pastries – lumped together these foods are commonly called junk foods.
Over the last few decades, there has been a shift in the world’s food supply from eating healthy, homemade, and natural food to relying more and more on processed, junk food.
Yet it is clear that eating more, junk foods may partly account for the worrying, increasing trends in many diseases, including cancer.
In a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal1, researchers showed that a 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a more than 10% increase in the risk of cancer.
These findings add to the strong body of evidence linking poor diet with cancer risk.
Even small portions of these foods contain a lot of energy (calories/ kilojoules) with little of the nutrients for good health.
This is why the World Cancer Research Fund recommends that to lower our cancer risk, we limit our intake of junk food.2
Junk Food is High in Energy
Eating a lot of junk food is high in energy (kilojoules/ calories) from added fat and extra sugar.
It is thought that ultra-processed foods contribute to a whopping 25% – 50% of our total daily energy intake.1
Too high energy intake, over time, may contribute to weight gain.
There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of various cancers3 such as cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, colon, breast (post-menopause), ovary, endometrium (womb), prostate and kidney.
Studies have shown that as much as 1 in 5 of all cancer deaths4 may be related to excess weight.
It is estimated that by 2030, obesity-related cancers will have the highest death rates4 of all the cancers.
Cutting down on junk food will naturally keep your energy intake in check to help manage weight.
Junk Food is Low in Fibre
During processing, much of the fibre is removed from the grain. Refined grains are produced by a series of mechanised processes including hulling and milling. The parts that are removed, such as the bran, germ, and endosperm, provide far greater nutritional value compared to when these grains are refined and processed.
This makes a diet high in processed food low fibre.
We want to aim to eat more whole grains to help meet our fibre needs.
Diets rich in fibre from foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit5 may be protective against various cancers, including decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer.
Added to this, a study6 showed that wholegrain eaters (both adults and children) have significantly better intakes of nutrients and dietary fibre.
The same study found that as whole grain intake increased, BMI and waist circumference decreased.
Another study7 showed that those who eat whole grains on average weigh 3.2kg less, eat less sugar and saturated fat, and eat more fibre, calcium, vitamin D and magnesium.
Since fibre is linked to healthier weights which we know helps lower our cancer risk, cutting out the junk food in favour of more fibre is clearly a double-win.
Junk Food is Low in Nutrients
Stripped of fibre and nutrients during processing, junk food has a low nutritional value.
Eating a diet with a lot of junk food will mean you displace the opportunity to eat real whole food like fruit and vegetables.
Fruit and vegetables are high in nutrients that are potentially cancer protective,5 such as phytochemicals (e.g. carotenoids, phenolic compounds), vitamin C, vitamin E, minerals, fibre, and other bioactive compounds.
The best dietary advice is actually really simple: swap the junk food for more of the foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meat, chicken and fish, eggs, and dairy.
In general, the healthiest foods are those that have not been processed.
This means that they have not had extra sugar or fat added and the fibre is more likely to still be present.
The FitChef Difference
We ditch the junk at FitChef, with meals made from high-fibre ingredients, loads of fruit and vegetables.
We don’t add sugar to most food (apart from the occasion and limited use of honey or fruit juice, or other natural sugars in some snacks), and are proudly free from preservatives, flavourants, colourants and stabilisers. This keeps our food whole, real, and junk-food free.
- Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, etal . Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ 2018;360:k322. 10.1136/bmj.k322 29444771.
- World Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Cancer: A Global Perspective. Continues Update Project Expert Report. 2018. Available from: https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Recommendations.pdf.
- Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Body Fatness and Weight Gain and the Risk of Cancer. Available at www.dietandcancerreport.org.
- Font-Burgada J, Sun B, Karin M. Obesity and cancer: the oil that feeds the flame. Cell Met Rev. 2016; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2015.12.015.
- Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Wholegrains, vegetables and fruit and the risk of cancer. Available at www.dietandcancerreport.org.
- Albertson AM et al. Whole grain consumption trends and associations with body weight measures in the United States: results from the cross sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2012. Nutrition Journal. 2015. 15(8).
- Papanikolaou Y et al. Certain Grain Food Patterns Are Associated with Improved 2015 Dietary Guidelines Shortfall Nutrient Intakes, Diet Quality, and Lower Body Weight in US Adults: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2010. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2016;7(9). DOI: 10.4236/fns.2016.79078