back to article Arrrgh! Put down the crisps! 'Ultra-processed' foods linked to cancer!

A study has suggested a link between diets high in ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of cancer – but academics have warned against over-interpreting the results. The work, published in the BMJ, assessed the diets – as reported through a survey – and cancer risk of a group of almost 105,000 French men and women. It …

  1. Lee D Silver badge

    If you want to change things then tax processed foods and give subsidies to farmers and others making and selling fresh local produce. It costs LUDICROUSLY more to buy, say, a few veggies than to pick up a huge bag of frozen veg and a whole chicken, or a ready-meal.

    But the science behind this is bunk as everything's so broad, and we really shouldn't be reporting it. There are so many assumptions in that paper's opening data collection description that it's unbelievable. Hell, it's all based on a web-survey anyway and "photos of usual food containers" to judge weight/size of the meals!

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Trollface

      The science isn't bunk, just a very VERY high-level observation. That should then be repeated focusing on more specific elements eg sugar only, salt, fats, additives etc. Generally speaking, it is extremely difficut to make any sort of diet-related study becaue to get truly scientifically meaningful results you would need to monitor and control exactly what everyone is eating, drinking and smoking, what exercise they do, how much sleep they get etc. Self-reporting can only work to a certain extent but can be flawed because the data itself isn't so reliable.

      The ideal study candidates would be long-term prison population - feed one wing with Asda ready-meals and for the other get Jamie Oliver to do a variation on his school-meals program. I propose that this would not fall foul of 'no human experimentation' guidelines as any ready-meal is probably better than whatever slop is served in prison kitchens by the lowest bidder on a tight budget. And finance the whole program by making a nice TV documentary (prison riot optional)

      *only partially tongue in cheek*

      1. lawndart

        Careful. It's entirely possible putting your tongue in your cheek may give you cancer.

      2. John Arthur
        IT Angle

        @jmch

        Please, please, not the Jamie Oliver wing!

        1. JLV Silver badge

          esp if he's naked

        2. Ian Mason

          Have you noticed that Jamie Oliver is gradually turning into Ray Winstone? Seriously, next time he's on TV compare him to a twenty year old photo of Ray. Anyway, this leads to the obvious conclusion that the experiment should take place, not in an adult jail, but in the borstal from "Scum".

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Lee D,

      fresh veg is always going to cost more. You've got to package it, and it's got a very limited sell-by date - so you get spoilage in transport and then have to chuck some away.

      Frozen veg is actually pretty healthy. Modern freezing techniques are pretty good at protecting the vitamins.

      And actually ready meals are more expensive than cooking from fresh. An individual cottage pie or lasagne in the supermarket is £3-£4. I can make 4 of those from a £3-£4 pack of minced beef, plus under a quid's worth of onions/spice/pasta/potatoes/tinned tomatoes.

      I've heard campaigners talking about "food deserts". Places where there are no general food shops where you can buy fresh, but only convenience stores selling ready-meals. Which then stuffs poor people with the inclination to cook, but not the budget to travel. But with online shopping so common, I can't imagine there's that many places like that in the UK? I believe that's more a US poor inner-city area thing, but could well be wrong.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "And actually ready meals are more expensive than cooking from fresh."

        What you save in money you lose in time, which to many is more precious than the money.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          What you save in money you lose in time, which to many is more precious than the money.

          Charles 9,

          I've not eaten many ready meals that were even vaguely nice. I've had some pretty decent supermarket pizza though.

          But my 4 shepherds pie meal involves chopping some onions for 2 minutes, leaving them to saute in a pan while I watch telly. Then brown the mince, spice, stir, add gravy and generally muck about for ten minutes. Then simmer for half an hour while I do other things and the potatoes boil. So add peeling tatties for 4 minutes. Then mash, and shove in ovenproof dishes, and bung in the freezer when cold.

          That's probably 20 minutes work for 4 meals. And I can be pottering in the kitchen - say cooking that day's dinner or washing-up, while all this is going on. And listening to comedy on the radio too. It's not a bad investment of time.

          If you're really organised you can be cooking 2 or 3 different meals at once to fill your freezer up with. And your friends will appreciate something you cooked for them far more than any ready meal.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            20 minutes is a lot to a person working a crapload just to pay the bills. To them, 5 minutes is a lot, let alone 20, especially when they're running red lights to get to the C-store for that last beer before lockdown because it's the only moment in your day you can buy it, and you need it to get those precious few hours of sleep before the cycle begins all over again. I'm reminded of that lyric, "Stolen moments of your life were all you had to give."

        2. ravenviz

          What you save in money you lose in time

          Maybe time well spent if you are going to lose much more of it later?

    3. JLV Silver badge

      Well, it's got a ton of holes in it, for sure. As others have remarked, deli bakery bread is not ultra-processed (now with more electrolytes!) but packaged bread would be.

      Take it with a grain of salt. But, if you'd looked at studies regarding trans fats, a lot of the conclusions may have looked shady 10-20 yrs ago. Still, now that Denmark has been off them for a while, the findings look more solid: http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(15)00328-1/abstract

      Ditto nitrites/nitrates in food. 30 yrs ago, a coworker told me that his advisor, he trained as a food manufacturing engineer, told him anyone in the industry already knew they were carcinogens.

      For me, this has nothing to do with organic/non-organic, GMO/non-GMO and other scares. Diet matters, a lot, and it is not all pseudo-science by the gullible brigade.

      This is only a teaser telling us we should look deeper.

      ~10% extra cancer risk for ~10% extra processed food is high enough to care, it's not like processed food is really yummy to start with and can't be done without.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Unhappy

        It's probably due to Palm Oil

        That shit's in everything these days.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        'Take it with a grain of salt. But, if you'd looked at studies regarding trans fats, a lot of the conclusions may have looked shady 10-20 yrs ago.'

        There's trans fats and then there's trans fats...

        As a student back in the early 80's (83-84) I shared a house with a couple of medical students, I used to get it in the neck all the time from them about the 'unhealthy' amount of butter I used, that was until the night they came back in from Uni and binned everything they could find with any mention of hydrogenated vegetable oils in the ingredients, seemingly these fine substances and their negative impact on people's health were the topic of discussion of one of that day's lectures.

        So, the medical profession in the UK was aware of the suspect nature of these beasties at least 34 years ago, which leads nicely into

        'Ditto nitrites/nitrates in food. 30 yrs ago, a coworker told me that his advisor, he trained as a food manufacturing engineer, told him anyone in the industry already knew they were carcinogens.'

        I heard similar back then, and on a related issue, one food engineer I knew back in the 80's refused to eat or drink anything out of a can/tin, this was long before anyone muttered anything publicly about BPA (the 90's, ISTR), and you do have to wonder how long they'd sat on this information, and what else they're sitting on.

        Still, all this is the least of my current worries, I've just found out that soil samples taken less than 400ft uphill from my gardens contain levels of Lead, Benzo(a)pyrene, Dibenz(a,h)anthracene and, that old perennial favourite, asbestos which exceed 'Residential End Use Guidelines', oh, what fscking fun...(especially the asbestos..going by their figures, the worst case scenario is that there's potentially 400 metric tonnes of the stuff distributed all over the 6000 m² site..and that's only the bit they've sampled).

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Follow the money

      These studies raise alarm bells with me.. both the pro and con sides. Who's paying for them? Andy why? Someone sitting around a college campus or research site just doesn't jump up and say "I think I'll research and do a paper on X!". So El Reg didn't do or was unable to do a "money" check on who is paying for what. To me, that's the sad part. Without those bits of data, this is just so much headline grabbing and some smoke and mirrors.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

    Basically the same the crisis over the MMR vaccine.

    However it remains plausible that industrially produced food, much of which is synthetically created, is probably not so good for you in all cases.

    We will find out in time, if more targeted studies are done, but I suspect any findings will be far more nuanced that a broad brush factory made stuff is bad for you story.

    1. gv

      Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

      Life is (ultimately) fatal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

      " far more nuanced that a broad brush factory made stuff is bad for you story."

      try telling my wife that anything non-organic is OK and won't lead to an early grave

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

        "try telling my wife that anything non-organic is OK and won't lead to an early grave"

        And anything organic is OK, too? If she's of that stance, ask her if she's interested in all natural belladonna.

    3. Korev Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

      Meanwhile people will cite this research and try to sell you food like "delicious" kale smoothies

      1. vir

        Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

        Marketing departments will seize on whatever fluff is out there to get you to buy their product. A great example is "uncured" bacon, which plays off people's blanket fear of chemical-sounding additives in their food. Supposedly health conscious consumers don't want sodium nitrite added to their bacon, so they'll gladly purchase the "no nitrite added*" kind and think they're avoiding a chemical scourge.

        *Except for nitrites naturally occurring in celery powder/juice. And, since celery products naturally vary in nitrite concentration, the manufacturer ends up adding huge amounts of it in case it's an abnormally weak batch, so you're actually likely to consume more nitrite when eating "uncured" bacon than bacon cured with a known concentration of nitrites.

        1. JLV Silver badge

          Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

          interesting. apparently nitrates/nitrites are healthy enough, but can change into nastier compounds when heated a lot. that's something we already know about meat in general.

          https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-nitrates-and-nitrites-harmful#section5

          (maybe you Brits were onto something when you boiled everything)

          so you might be right. :-( - I was feeling better about celery-added bacon.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

            '..(maybe you Brits were onto something when you boiled everything)'

            Funny you should say that, it was a topic of conversation at work a few weeks back about how the older generations basically boiled the meat for almost every meat dish (only exceptions were the Christmas Turkey and the occasional roast beef), I can remember we only had a 'fry up' once a week (typically Saturday morning).

            A slight asides, Chicken was always boiled, both sides of my family prepared it this way, so you can maybe then image my moment of deep culinary culture shock when as an impressionable young Scot aged 8 I visited the 'States and tasted my first deep fried chicken..and lo! it was tasty...and yea, was I the weird little bugger who used to put bits of chicken (plain and bettered) into the chip pan (Deep fat fryer to all you posh people out there..read the section starting 'THE good folk of the West End of Greenock..') for years after that revelation?, too bloody right I was. Having pegged this as a USian invention, you can imagine my confusion when I discovered that the basic idea of deep frying a chicken seems to have originated in Scotland.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Usual media over-reporting highly interim and possibly invalid findings

      "We will find out in time, if more targeted studies are done, but I suspect any findings will be far more nuanced that a broad brush factory made stuff is bad for you story."

      Which is exactly what makes this sort of research dangerous. A large segment of the population seem to get their entire "news feed" by reading Daily Mail-esqe headlines and maybe the first paragraph and rarely get far enough into the story to get past the "click bait". Not helped by self-reinforced outrage with like-minded people on social media "confirming the facts".

      This is probably a prime example of the sort of research that should be leading to further research before publishing, not publishing the first vague results showing only correlation and no proof of cause.

  3. Steve Button

    "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

    So, please help me with the grammar here. The BMJ (and loads of others) say "a myriad of" whereas the book Sapiens (and also loads of other places), just say "myriad". As in "We face myriad choices".

    So, journo types, what is it please?

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

      So, please help me with the grammar here.

      Funny you should ask that, because where you later wrote So, journo types, what is it please? you ought to have written So journo types which is it please?

    2. Excellentsword (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

      "A myriad of" is wrong, it's like saying "a seven of". However, I don't sub the BMJ and inserting [sic] felt too nerdy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

        What about a seven of nine?

        Couldn't resist that one.

        There is also the Tao and the myriad creatures, it's not the myriad of.

        1. Grant Fromage
          Coat

          Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

          Off topic , however....

          What about a seven of nine?

          Ah you mean the lady a fellow trek viewer friend refers to as " two of a pair"as he is breast obsessed, and actually watches more than the odd voyager episode. just for this.

          I`m reminded of Benny Hill in the Italian Job.

          I do agree that Jerry Ryan was splendidly embodied and the outfit showed this, but that`s just nice aesthetically, overall.

          1. JLV Silver badge

            Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

            and her pair did their bit to eventually get Obama the presidency too if you'll recall.

            You can watch her on 'Bosch', a decent adaptation of Michael Connely's books on Amazon video.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about a seven of nine?

          Hubba hubba hubba

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

        "A myriad of" is wrong, it's like saying "a seven of".

        Myriad can be a collective noun, so of can apply. Otherwise, it's a "bunch grapes".

      3. Def Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

        "A myriad of" is wrong, it's like saying "a seven of".

        No, "a myriad of" is just fine. It uses the word myriad as a noun, meaning "an indefinitely great number".

        When used as an adjective, myriad takes on the slightly different meaning "of an indefinitely great number".

        Myriad was used as a noun at least 250 years before people started using it as an adjective.

        1. vir

          Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

          Garner's Modern English Usage states that "myriad is more concise as an adjective...but the mere fact that the adjective is handier than the noun doesn't mean that the latter is substandard...the choice is a question of style, not correctness."

          A fascinating reference book, if usage dictionaries are your thing.

          1. onefang Silver badge

            Re: "containing a myriad of nutrients and food additives"

            You got a myriad of replies, with myriad different answers.

  4. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

    ... here's an amusing set of correlations which can't have a causation: http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

    1. Thoguht Silver badge

      Re: This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

      The really scary thing about that link was finding out how many people die as a result of becoming tangled in their bedsheets.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

        'The really scary thing about that link was finding out how many people die as a result of becoming tangled in their bedsheets.'

        Surely an argument for not even trying to get out of bed?

    2. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

      It could be the other way around: cancer patients are more likely to end up in hospitals or other situations where they will be fed unhealthy ultra-processed food.

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

        I am reminded of a wonderful series on TV, 'Live and Loves of a She-Devil'...some amazing acting (despite Mr Waterman) and there was a scene which predicted this report.

        A judge believed that peanut butter made people evil because everyone who was found guilty had eaten peanut butter in the period leading up to their trial. In almost every instance that was because they were on remand and it was served in the prison/remand centre they were held in.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: This is a perfect example of the press stating that correlation means causation...

      Vigen also published a collection of excerpts from his site in a little book, which makes a nice gift for recipients who are too quick to seize on correlations. Or for anyone who's annoyed by that sort.

  5. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Hesus Forking Crispus!

    It took me *actually* having to dig down to the "who we are" page before I was able to connect BMJ to British Medical Journal. Keep in mind, am left pondian, and from the *cough* upper 6/10's of the continent, so I am somewhat equipped to make these connections.

    That the BMJ has a website that makes it that difficult to connect that particular pair of dots makes me wonder where it is headed.

    Now, as for the OMG PROCESSED FUUDZ WILL KILLZ the issue is the hype around anything like this. Mostly I think it comes from some deep seated issue the diagnosticians *and* the publicists have with the current world *period*. I.E. Modern world sucks ass in all sorts of ways, (wars, politics, snowflakes, polarization of the proletariat, 99% vs 1% vs 0.0001%, MS, Oracle, Linux on the Desktop, HP laptops, Lenovo laptops, flavour of the tapwater, colour of the sewage riverwater, sushi rollls, etc etc etc) so if it is relatively modern it must be killing us, lets go back to teh huntard/gathertard cavedweller!

    That and the simple fact that if you yell something loud enough, and then point out that the research needs *LOTS* of fine tuning *someone* somewhere will throw lots of money at you to make that tuning in their favour anyhow.

    <hmm... I seem to be down a cup of (industrially processed) coffee this morning>

  6. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Meh

    In other news, living increases cancer risk.

    1. Thoguht Silver badge
      Trollface

      More like, "in other news, a French study proves that bread made using a process developed in France is healthier than bread made using a process developed in England".

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        OK, so next compare a bread made using a French process in an English oven versus a bread made using an English process in a French oven.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The study clearly shows the French process in an English oven works nearly perfectly every time whereas the English process in a French oven is nearly always a disaster. What it doesn't say is whether the result is due to a deficiency in the process, skill level of the baker, the suitability of the oven, or outright malice because the process was written in the wrong language.

        2. onefang Silver badge
          Alert

          "OK, so next compare a bread made using a French process in an English oven versus a bread made using an English process in a French oven."

          Just don't try that in a Dutch oven.

          1. Oengus Silver badge

            Why not? we call it damper...

          2. Charles 9 Silver badge

            "Just don't try that in a Dutch oven."

            I wouldn't be surprised if there was a kind of bread you could make in a Dutch oven. Depends on the recipe and the specifics of the pot.

            1. onefang Silver badge

              Having made bread in a dutch oven, you would then cut the cheese to make a sanga.

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      "In other news, living increases cancer risk."

      As does multicellularity

  7. Ralph the Wonder Llama
    Joke

    "Their interesting results require ... further refinement."

    lol

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "Their interesting results require ... further refinement."

      They really floured with that joke

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Their interesting results require ... further refinement."

        I'm still processing it.

  8. ukgnome Silver badge

    Dear Science

    the 1980's called and wants its research back.

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    As a five year old in Coventry, I were on three bags o' Robinson's Unsalted a week and it never 'armed me!

    Apart from the bit where y' accidentally chewed into the little blue bag of salt hiding in t' packet o' course.

    These days y' can't gerrem o' course. Y' can only get ready-salted. Bloody namby-pamby nanny state.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      These days y' can't gerrem o' course. Y' can only get ready-salted. Bloody namby-pamby nanny state.

      Except of course you can, in most supermakets.

      https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/254926817

      https://groceries.asda.com/product/888410

      https://groceries.morrisons.com/webshop/product/Walkers-Salt--Shake-Crisps/112863011

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re:Except of course you can, in most supermakets.

        Except of course you can't.

        Robinson's have been out of business for many years.

        Walkers use a hermetically sealed plastic bag that is by-and-large chew-proof. The Real Thing was a twist of blue, waxed greaseproof paper that was anything but.

        Quite why you thought a different brand of crisps would be anything approaching an acceptable substitute is beyond me. Robinson's was a small, local firm, what would today probably be called a micro baker. Walkers is a huge conglomochippery. Other than the fact that the crisps in the bag* are slices of fried potato there is literally no comparison on any level between the two.

        This sort of woolly thinking is what makes people say LibreOffice is a drop-in replacement for MS Office and Windows users would be better off with an Apple machine.

        * : made of different materials too: Robinsons used greaseproof paper bags, Walkers the ecologically unsound plastic

        1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

          Re: Re:Except of course you can, in most supermakets.

          Many years ago, I used to work for "Smiff's Crisps" - the originators of "The Real Thing".

          During that time, I remember seeing a copy of the company 'newspaper', carrying an article about 3 women who were the longest-serving production line operators. In the article, they reminisced about how Things Used To Be in Olden Days.

          1. Pick up a cellophane bag, and blow into it to open it up

          2. Pick up a handful of crisps from the line, and sling 'em in - put the bag to one side

          3. Take a piece of the "blue waxed greaseproof paper", & dip it into the open tray of salt, and pinch fingers together to gather a reasonable amount

          4. Twist the open ends of the paper together, throw in to the bag of crisps

          5. Bring bag to mouth, and lick across the top (as with a postal envelope) then press the now-sticky open end of the bag closed, ready for packaging in larger collections for transport.

          Small wonder you can't get the original things these days...

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: Bah!

      Surely growing up in Coventry has done you more harm than anything in your diet ever could...

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        I grew up in a town made famous for Lady Godiva. Everywhere one went in the city center there were statues of naked ladies on horseback. What sort of statues did they show young boys where you grew up?

        In that town center was Barnby's, the best toy shop ever. They sold awesome Pelham puppets and real chemistry sets (AND the bits and chemicals to expand them or replace the breakages) and Hornby train sets and Minic Motorways and Scalextric and everything Britain's made from model gardens to working field guns. Their Lego selection was incredible.

        Virgin Records had one of their two stores only 18 minutes away in Birmingham, and in the early 70s opened one in Coventry anyway.

        Coventry connected with the rest of the world by British Rail, which was inexpensive and reliable in those days. In the early 80s I commuted to London daily for a contract and they only cancelled one train the entire time I was doing so (and had another ready to go as a "special" shortly after).

        Coventry produced some stellar musical acts during my youth, and had many venues in which they could be seen. I remember a particularly fine Gryphon concert as part of the University of Warwick's three day arts festival, though of course Gryphon were not a local band. Caravan were also playing that gig.

        And by living in Coventry I could find and afford my TR6 and keep it running. Not a big deal in Coventry, roads were full of them etc, but I was then pulling contracts all over the south of England where the car was a rarity and a complete asset when it came to getting introductions to the southerners a young man *wants* to get closer to.

        Also the Coventry TR6 scene was a total blast. Drive down a city street and soon you'd be in a convoy of five or six, all basking in the envy of the older drivers in their sensible saloon cars. I remember one guy had his done in midnight blue mirrorflake paint, and when it was illuminated by others' headlights after dark it was indescribably beautiful to look at.

        I only exist because driving a bus or an ambulance in Coventry was considered as hazardous as front-line service during the height of WWII. My paternal grandfather (from Norwich) was given the choice and picked the civilian option, so the family relocated there, where my father met my mother after the Luftwaffe had failed to bomb the city flat flat as promised.

        And there is good reason to believe that Coventry as such is one of England's oldest cities, with history dating back beyond the Cadfael era of Maud and Stephen.

        So no, actually, I kinda enjoy the fact I came from there.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Bah!

          "So no, actually, I kinda enjoy the fact I came from there."

          Yeabut, other than that, what has Coventry ever done for us?

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re:what has Coventry ever done for us

            Well, it has been the Capital City of England a couple of times when London was inhospitable.

            I rather like the place. But I don't recognize it now, and got hopelessly lost trying to "drive" around the city using Google Earth.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, this report got a few headlines in the tabloids so I guess it made somebody happy, despite it's incredible vagueness. There is no clarity over what "ultraprocessed" means, and there are so many other factors that could be involved it's effectively junk science.

  11. tiggity Silver badge

    full disclosure

    The study sounded really vague.

    However, when getting a quote from a nearby rent a quote scientist, a bit of full (or even limited) disclosure on them might help people evaluate their comments.

    .. e.g. how many million Tom Sanders has received from Tate & Lyle.

    Obviously, massive funding from companies involved in all things sugary, does not necessarily mean a scientist is (knowingly or subconsciously) influenced, but transparency is a good thing.

    (Govt is notoriously poor on funding basic research these days, so often industry has to be a cash source for scientists, though that carries risk of been seen as mouthpiece for sugary / fatty/ whatever food company gives you funding)

  12. Bob Wheeler
    Mushroom

    Web surevy

    When asked

    1: if you smoke how many per day?

    2: if you drink, how much per day?

    Really how many folks answer truthfully?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Web surevy

      Yes

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Web surevy

      Self-reporting of behaviour or consumption is notoriously inaccurate.

      Factors include:

      - lying

      - poor memory

      - biased perception

      - inexact definitions

      - ignorance of facts

      How many people can accurately identify a nutritionist's definition of a 'serving'?

      I remember a BBC survey purporting to relate intelligence to diet. The survey included hundreds of self-identified vegetarians who said they ate chicken and fish.

      A third party observer or design that controls and counts things is one way of getting much more accurate data.

      1. onefang Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Web surevy

        "I remember a BBC survey purporting to relate intelligence to diet. The survey included hundreds of self-identified vegetarians who said they ate chicken and fish."

        Perhaps that was part of the intelligence test? Are you a vegetarian? Is chicken a vegetable? Is fish a vegetable?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Web surevy

          Oh, like the "Panda B" test?

          PS. Have to wonder if anyone's dared to make a drug named Panda B just to throw a wrench into those surveys...

  13. Dr_N Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Daily Mail

    At least The Daily Mail got one of its wet-dream front pages today.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another questionable bit of diet science

    Always, always be skeptical of diet / nutrition / risk studies if they violate good common sense.

    What were the 'nutrition risk crowd' wrong about in the past?

    1. They were wrong about red meat and cancer (if you take out processed meat with a lot of additives, there is no increased risk).

    2. They were wrong about dietary cholesterol (not really tied to blood cholesterol or health).

    3. They were wrong about fat (turns out the sugar in fat free foods is worse for you, and getting about 35% of your calories from fat can help with weight control and lessen risk of developing diabetes due to sugar/carbohydrate metabolism effects).

    4. The nutbar/trendy fringe is wrong about gluten - gluten free foods are useless unless you have a diagnosed medical condition - diagnosed by a real doctor, not a homeopath or naturopath. Worse than useless, they are nutritionally inferior to the versions with natural gluten.

    5. They were wrong about salt. That's usually about hypertension, but only some people react to salt that way... and the salt guidelines are set dangerously low (see McMaster University Health Sciences meta-study on salt).

    6. They were misleading about the Mediterranean diet - it can help, but only for those in upper economic classes - there is no benefit for those at lower economic levels.

    7. Vegan / vegetarian advocates tend to be wrong about a plethora of things. It isn't inherently healthier, though it may help some people do things that they could also do on a normal diet. It isn't for everyone... mutational distributions tend to reflect historic evolution - which is why 98% of North Europeans have adult lactose tolerance genes, compared to 2% of South Asians. People of Northern European ancestry have around a 23% incidence of genes adapting them to surviving on a vegetarian diet. On the other hand, a million continuous years of eating meat has left almost all of us equipped for omnivorous diets - which tend to be far healthier than a vegetarian diet not specifically structured to provide adequate and adequately diverse amino acids and vitamins - see comparisons of health in early farm societies versus hunter-gatherer societies. Historically the farmers tended to win wars, but only because there were ten times as many of them. The Eskimo/Inuit were far healthier when their diet was 98% animal based... their genes are set up for that.

    I won't even try to address the various quack diets proposed by nutbars and scam artists... there are way too many of them... and I know I am missing cases from the list above.

    And, of course, single studies of correlation are close to meaningless...

    Useful xkcd reference:

    https://www.xkcd.com/882/

    If you look, more than half of studies reported in the popular press seem to have apparent problems with confounding factors... and you can only be sort of (but not really) sure they don't by reading the experimental design and analysis.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Another questionable bit of diet science

      But next thing you know, yet ANOTHER study (just as peer-reviewed as all the others) will prove that we were wrong about being wrong about all that stuff, and it'll all go on...

    2. onefang Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Another questionable bit of diet science

      "The nutbar/trendy fringe is wrong about gluten"

      I didn't think there was that much gluten in nut bars.

      I'll get me coat, it's the one with the packet of cashews in the pocket.

    3. JLV Silver badge

      Re: Another questionable bit of diet science

      >Always, always be skeptical of diet / nutrition / risk studies if they violate good common sense.

      I agree with that opening statement, but the rest of it is overly broad generalizations, IMHO.

      You're not wrong to be skeptical about diets, but I see a lot of categorical statements that could do with a lot more qualifications on your part.

      Wrong about red meat, wrong about salt, wrong about this and wrong about that => all diet science is junk, to have you believe it.

      Yes, it does seem like dietary research is full of contradictions. @jmch, in the 2nd post here, nails the reasons why.

      Yes, you are right to say that the (lucrative) gluten fad is just that, at least for most people that don't have a real intolerance. Vegans are... vegans, no need for elaboration. Don't get me started on GMO and organic wars - lots of noise, not much science.

      But using a few, valid, observations, coupled with a few contrary studies, some of which are probably contradicted by others, to "debunk" dietary research is hardly very scientific either. The Eskimo example has some easy to spot flaws: First were Eskimos' life expectancies actually high on their traditional diets? Second, by non-Eskimo metrics, would what they've added to their diet be considered healthy? Or are they mostly eating junk food? There's a clue in what fresh food can cost up North.

      http://www.businessinsider.com/food-prices-high-northern-canada-2017-9

      Third, how much can we generalize findings from a racial subgroup that has evolved very specific adaptations to their environment, including processing vitamin D very differently from other people?

      The broad strokes are pretty obvious though: a lot of salt, sugar and fat is not good for most people, under most conditions.

      In Westernized diets these have been higher than they would have been in the past. In Europe 500 yrs ago, which is relatively recent in evolutionary terms -unlike the Eskimos with at least 10K years and wheat-based diets in Europe with nearly as long - sugar as we know it barely existed, salt was a premium product and too many people were on the edge of starvation to make me think a lot of calories were consumed through animal fat or vegetal oils, at least outside of the noble classes. Retaining excess calories as body fat was an survival advantage.

      Seems odd to say, but until the science has settled down, Michael Polan's admonition not to trust something that your grandmother (or someone else's) may have recognized seems valid enough. Limit your fat, salt, sugar, avoid foods with too many ingredients listed on the back. Don't sweat the GMO/organic/vegan/raw diet scaremongering until those groups manage to come up with some real peer-reviewed science. Cook from base ingredients. Aim for more vegetables and fruits in your diet but don't forget your proteins.

      Don't trust authors, bloggers, or companies with vested financial interests to sell you their viewpoints.

      Be cautious and critical, but don't practice excessive distrust of actual scientific research. Science is a process and studies contradicting each other is part of that.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another questionable bit of diet science

    Always, always be skeptical of diet / nutrition / risk studies if they violate good common sense.

    What were the 'nutrition risk crowd' wrong about in the past?

    1. They were wrong about red meat and cancer (if you take out processed meat with a lot of additives, there is no increased risk).

    2. They were wrong about dietary cholesterol (not really tied to blood cholesterol or health).

    3. They were wrong about fat (turns out the sugar in fat free foods is worse for you, and getting about 35% of your calories from fat can help with weight control and lessen risk of developing diabetes due to sugar/carbohydrate metabolism effects).

    4. The nutbar/trendy fringe is wrong about gluten - gluten free foods are useless unless you have a diagnosed medical condition - diagnosed by a real doctor, not a homeopath or naturopath. Worse than useless, they are nutritionally inferior to the versions with natural gluten.

    5. They were wrong about salt. That's usually about hypertension, but only some people react to salt that way... and the salt guidelines are set dangerously low (see McMaster University Health Sciences meta-study on salt).

    6. They were misleading about the Mediterranean diet - it can help, but only for those in upper economic classes - there is no benefit for those at lower economic levels.

    7. Vegan / vegetarian advocates tend to be wrong about a plethora of things. It isn't inherently healthier, though it may help some people do things that they could also do on a normal diet. It isn't for everyone... mutational distributions tend to reflect historic evolution - which is why 98% of North Europeans have adult lactose tolerance genes, compared to 2% of South Asians. People of Northern European ancestry have around a 23% incidence of genes adapting them to surviving on a vegetarian diet. On the other hand, a million continuous years of eating meat has left almost all of us equipped for omnivorous diets - which tend to be far healthier than a vegetarian diet not specifically structured to provide adequate and adequately diverse amino acids and vitamins - see comparisons of health in early farm societies versus hunter-gatherer societies. Historically the farmers tended to win wars, but only because there were ten times as many of them. The Eskimo/Inuit were far healthier when their diet was 98% animal based... their genes are set up for that.

    8. 'Organic' food, in general conveys no benefit except consuming money you might spend on something harmful, like cigarettes, alcohol, beach vacations, or motorcycles.

    9. GMO food has no problems aside from legal issues around patents. Not only a logical conclusion, but validated by my favourite molecular biologist, who also has a degree in food science. (She also confirms that humans are evolved as omnivorous predators, and anyone who denies that is running from a reality written in our structure and biochemistry.)

    I won't even try to address the various quack diets proposed by nutbars and scam artists... there are way too many of them... and I know I am missing cases from the list above.

    And, of course, single studies of correlation are close to meaningless...

    Useful xkcd reference:

    https://www.xkcd.com/882/

    If you look, more than half of studies reported in the popular press seem to have apparent problems with confounding factors... and you can only be sort of (but not really) sure they don't by reading the experimental design and analysis.

  16. EveryTime Silver badge

    The only conclusion that can be made at this point

    The only valid conclusion at this point is that the additional risk is roughly on the order of the known error when correcting for confounding factors. So it's basically minimal, and isn't the first thing to choose when trying to change to a healthier lifestyle.

    Every time I scratch a phrase such as "ultraprocessed", I come away smelling an agenda.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The only conclusion that can be made at this point

      This all rather reminds me of the scare headlines of the type "CANCER RISKS INCREASED BY 75%!!!" when the reality is the risk was 0.1% and has increased by 75% to 0.175%.

  17. Banksy

    Damn

    They just listed my entire diet!

  18. Banksy

    Absolute risk

    The absolute risk values would be useful. 10% increased risk sounds scary but if the actual risk of getting a given cancer is 0.1% are you bothered about a 10% increase?

  19. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    "Ultra-Processed Foods"

    I guess we'll be changing the definition or introducing a new higher category post-brexit when all the shit that Americans eat starts making its way here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Ultra-Processed Foods"

      '..when all the shit that Americans eat starts making its way here.'

      Errr, maybe you've missed the rather obnoxious adverts for Oreos over the past couple of years, or the fact the USians have started fucking around (as per Rich Hall's warnings) with what passed for our chocolate since Kraft/Mondelez consumed Cadburys.

      Feck, even B&M of all places seems to be fair infested with USian produce, admittedly mostly of the sweets variety..

      In summary, too late, it's already here...

  20. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    I can understand why highly processed food correlates with some increased cancer risk.

    Higher fat content, more preservatives and additives, less fiber. Quite possibly also a correlation between lower income levels and consumption of these processed foods, with some of the elevated use of tobacco and alcohol products in the working class

    However, what is the solution? Let's come up with some practical, affordable ways for people to eat healthier vs. throwing your frozen pizza rolls in the microwave and scarfing them down 5 minutes later.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I can understand why highly processed food correlates with some increased cancer risk.

      They'll have to be QUICK, too, as some people have to eat on the run. Time is money to them, and they have bills to pay.

  21. GX5000

    Nothing new

    Didn't everyone know this already?!

    Processed foods were known issues since the seventies...

  22. pauhit

    Predictions

    You'll have to tear the chips outta my cold, dead, hands...

    Well, maybe.

  23. Snowy
    Facepalm

    It is start.

    It is a start but in of itself has little to no reals science or as you put it:

    [quote]However, the study is better seen as preliminary work than a resounding smackdown, and there are a number of caveats that need to be considered before you ditch your lunchtime bag of crisps.[/quote]

    There seems to be a lot more of these "questionnaire" style of study, they can identify an area that needs a lot more study but in of itself tells use nothing. Name any food and there is likely to have been a study of this type that has said either it is good or bad for you!

    As for "ultra-processed foods " it is a bit like I could say salads are bad for you, but fail to tell you what is in the salad or what dressing was used.

  24. johnrwalker

    Seems likely that it could be what they are ,not eating that's the problem. If you are eating (a lot) instant 'pizzas' for most dinners, you are unlikely to be getting enough soluble fiber and other things that come with pulses, vegies and whole grains.

    There also could be confounding factors.

  25. Jtom Bronze badge

    These studies are only useful in helping to determine where future research may prove interesting, not in producing any real conclusions. They basically ask generic questions: what is your diet, what is your health, weight, height, how much do you exercise, what is your occupation, education, etc., then look for correlations.

    Random chance will produce spurious correlations - say you flipped dozens of coins with different dates 100 times, each, and the coin dated 1950 produced 60 heads vs 40 tails. Concluding that coins produced in 1950 will produce 50% more heads than tails when flipped is just ignorant. The only intelligent conclusion to reach is to say, hey, let's study this futher to see if it was just a random result or if there is something odd going on. This is why we see these headlines, then hear nothing more about it when results prove to be spurious, except from advocacy groups touting the original study endlessly.

    Now if the had hypothesized that junk food caused cancer, did this study, and obtained these results, that would carry substantially more weight. But they don't. As it is, these headlines could easily have been, 'drinking more than one glass of water a day may cause obesity.'

  26. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    Processes....

    Are chips more or less processed than mash?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Processes....

      That was a point raised during a radio interview on the subject earlier today. Pretty much all food is processed in some way and always has been. Even raw fruit, veg, lettuce-like leaves etc have been bred and husbanded 'till they bear little resemblance to what was around before farming.

  27. Mycho Silver badge

    I can't be the only one who briefly thought that was a photo of a yorkshire pudding filled with chips, can I?

  28. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I see they've gone from "processed" - which absolutely all food is processed unless you graze in a field - to "ultra-processed" scare shock horror.

  29. Fihart

    They'll take my crisps....

    ......from my cold, dead hand. Ah, okay.

  30. Ruisert

    "This means it isn't clear how the foods might increase cancer risk or what exactly it is that's behind the boost. For instance, is the increased risk related to sugar in the products? Fats? Or is it because of contaminants from the packaging?"

    1) Increased consumption of these foods may replace consumption of foods with known anti-carcinogenic properties. For example - raw broccoli has 2 known anti-cancer chemicals naturally, but when cooked, one is reduced or removed entirely.

    2) Most cancer cells depend on only one of 3 cell nutrients - glucose, and require 6 to 8 times the amount of a normal cell. Since many processed foods have additional sucrose ( a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose) added to increase sales, this could certainly be a factor. Also, many complex carbs found in processed foods easily break down into the simple carbs - sugars, rapidly (sometimes due merely to saliva), whereas less processed products such as whole grains are metabolized slower due to the fiber retained in those products.

    While there have not been any serious studies that I know of, current anecdotal evidence that cannabis consumption is anti-carcinogenic may well be true and effected by the lowering of glucose (commonly referred to as "the munchies" by many users) immediately after use.

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