A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association and noted by the team at Comprehensive Cancer Centers, suggests that consumption of ultra-processed foods might lead to increased health risks.  As the practice works to raise awareness to prevent illnesses, as well as maximize treatment outcomes for patients when in our care, understanding diet and nutrition makes studies like these worthy to note.

The ultra-processed food study examined a group consisting of 44,000 adults 45 years or older. Those who were noted as having a 10 percent  increase in the proportion of ultra-processed food consumption were associated with a 14 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality. With growing evidence indicating that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with higher incidence of non-communicable diseases, looking at what kinds of foods led to these increased risks, and looking for alternatives, is a great place to start when improving diet and nutrition.

What’s the Difference Between Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods?

The International Food Information Council defines food processing as any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it is ready for us to eat, which means that a processed food is simply a food altered from its original form. This occurs through heating, pasteurizing, canning, and drying. Some definitions of processed foods even include basic refrigeration.

With that in mind, it becomes obvious that vast majority of the foods we eat are processed and that is a necessary part of getting food from farms to grocery stores, farmers markets or some restaurants that are not farm to table, where most Americans can purchase and/or eat them.

Food processing works as follows:

  • Stage 1 – First stage of processing involves making sure the food is edible. Foods that have only gone through this stage of processing are often still considered whole foods.
  • Stage 2 – Secondary steps make a more complex, finished processed product. This includes cooking, freezing and canning, all steps necessary to ensure safe food transport, storing and selling.
  • Stage 3– Ultra-processed foods go through a third stage, when manufacturers inject flavors, added sugars, fats and chemical preservatives. This is where food moves far away from its natural state, while still being eaten by people.

Reduce Your Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods

As seen through the stages of food processing, avoiding processed foods entirely is an almost impossible task, especially for someone being treated for cancer. There just wouldn’t be enough time to farm, produce and prepare foods to be properly fed. Another challenge with cancer treatment is maintaining a healthy appetite can be a difficult for some patients. Food is necessary to stay healthy and maintain strength, even if some of the food eaten would normally not be as good for your health. During treatment, calories are often king.

The key is to finding a balance where you eat only a minimal amount of ultra-processed foods, while removing as much ultra-processed food from the diet as possible. A great way to cut down on these foods is during snack time where ultra-processed foods reign supreme. This includes chips, crackers and candy that are always very easy to find and often a tasty treat. Healthier and still tasty and easy-to-find options can be found, in nuts. Here are a few that taste good, while adding helpful nutrients to your system:

  • Almonds – Almonds contain healthy monounsaturated fat and have a higher amount of dietary fiber than other nuts and the most vitamin E and protein of all tree nuts. Almonds have been shown to reduce inflammation, which is helpful during cancer treatment.
  • Cashews – These nuts have the highest amount of iron and zinc per ounce of all nuts. These nutrients are critical in maintaining the body’s immune system. They also are rich in copper and magnesium.
  • Hazelnuts – Hazelnuts serve as an excellent source of vitamin E and are the tree nut with the highest concentration of folate and one of the tree nuts with the most amount of monounsaturated fats.
  • Pistachios – These nuts are packed with potassium and vitamin B6 and may help improve blood pressure, weight, and oxidative status.
  • Walnuts – A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts improve cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Just like almonds, walnuts are also have been found to reduce inflammation.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers Can Help

Physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers provide a variety of treatment options for cancers, breast health conditions, lung disease, sleep disorders along with cancer genetic counseling and world-class clinical research. The practice also is dedicated to helping patients live healthier lives through content on its blog, that includes recipes, healthy living and exercise tips. To learn more about Comprehensive, please call 702-952-3350.

The content is this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.