NEW YORK (CNN) – A new study has found that your diet may have more impact on your cancer risk than you might think.
According to a study published in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum on Wednesday, an estimated 80,110 new cases of cancer in adults in the United States aged 20+ in 2015 were due to their poor diet.
"This represents approximately 5.2% of all cases of invasive cancer newly diagnosed in adults in the US in 2015," Dr. Fang Fang Zhang, nutrition and cancer epidemiologist at Tufts University in Boston, who was the first author of the study.
"This proportion is comparable to the proportion of the cancer burden attributed to alcohol," she said.
Researchers assessed seven nutritional factors: low intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy, as well as a high intake of processed meats, red meats and sugary drinks such as soda.
"Low whole grain consumption was associated with the largest cancer burden in the US, followed by low dairy intake, high intake of processed meat, low intake of vegetables and fruits, high intake of red meat and high intake of sugary drinks. " Zhang said.
The study included adult US dietary intake data from 2013-2016 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as 2015 national cancer incidence data from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers used a comparative risk assessment model that estimated the number of malignant cancer cases and how much nutrition could play a role in the US cancer burden. These estimates were made using dietary cancer associations found in separate studies.
"Previous studies have shown that high consumption of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer and low wholegrain consumption lowers the risk of colorectal cancer," Zhang said. "However, our study quantified the number and proportion of new cancer cases attributable to a poor diet at the national level."
The researchers found that colon and rectal cancer had the highest number and highest proportion of diet-related illnesses at 38.3%.
Looking at nutritional results, low intake of whole grains and dairy products and consumption of processed meat contributed to the highest levels of cancer exposure.
In addition, men aged 45 to 64 and ethnic minorities, including blacks and Hispanics, had the highest levels of diet-related cancers compared to other groups.
The study had some limitations, including the fact that the data can not shed light on how the relationship between diet and cancer risk can change with age.
In addition, further research is needed to determine if similar associations would occur in the US for other years and periods.
All in all, "nutrition is one of the few modifiable risk factors for cancer prevention," Zhang said. "These findings underscore the need to reduce cancer exposure and differences in the US by improving the uptake of key food groups and nutrients."
Ultra-processed foods are a growing part of the global diet. A 2016 study found that 60% of calories in the average American diet come from this type of food, and a 2017 study found that they make up half of the Canadian diet. They make up more than 50% of the British diet, and much of the developing world starts to eat in this way.
However, you can protect yourself from cancer by avoiding ultra-processed foods and choosing organic foods instead, as studies have shown.
According to a study published last year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, people who often eat organic foods have reduced their overall risk of developing cancer. In particular, those who primarily ate organic foods were more likely to refuse non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer than those who rarely or never ate organic foods.
In addition, according to a study published in the same journal in February, there is a 14% higher risk of early death if the amount of food we use increases by 10% each.
Why do people eat more of these processed foods?
"We live in a fast-paced world and people are looking for convenient solutions, and we're always on the lookout for time," said Nurgul Fitzgerald, associate professor at Rutgers University's Department of Nutritional Sciences, earlier this year.
"People are looking for quick fixes, after a quick meal."
In terms of food choices, flavor is the most important factor for most consumers, but price and convenience are also important, and for ultra-processed foods, this convenience factor is "probably at the top of the list: get ready to eat."
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