(Are they still called “TV dinners?”)
If you’ve taken the “Healthy Weigh” class at The Gathering Place, or consulted with the Registered Dietician about your nutrition, or even if you just follow this blog, the results of this study in the British Medical Journal will not surprise you. But it might help you stay on the whole, fresh, unprocessed foods path when your feet are headed for the convenience aisle!
Using diet data reported by nearly 105,000 participants in a large, ongoing nutrition study, researchers found that the more “ultra-processed” foods an individual ate, the more likely they were to develop cancer. In fact, “a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with significant increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.”
The researchers defined ultra-processed foods as “mass produced packaged breads and buns; sweet or savoury packaged snacks; industrialised confectionery and desserts; sodas and sweetened drinks; meat balls, poultry and fish nuggets, and other reconstituted meat products transformed with addition of preservatives other than salt (for example, nitrites); instant noodles and soups; frozen or shelf stable ready meals; and other food products made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats, and other substances not commonly used in culinary preparations such as hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and protein isolates.”
In the “Discussion” section of their paper, the authors speculate on the reasons behind this association between ultra-processed foods and cancer. For example, ultra-processed foods tend to be low in fiber and stripped of protective micronutrients. They also contain numerous additives, some of which are suspected of being carcinogenic. Even the packaging may contain carcinogens. The authors note that more specific research is needed, but the evidence is increasingly in favor of a diet that emphasizes fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.
We all need fast and convenient meals sometimes. But they don’t always have to come out of sealed, plastic trays! I made this Thai chicken-cashews-veggies “sheet pan” dinner the other night, swapping Gardein “chicken” in place of the real stuff. It was a big hit in the household – in fact, there were no leftovers to pack for lunch the next day! (And that was a big pan!) This week we’ll be trying Honey Roasted Carrots & Parsnips With Quinoa & Arugula.
You’ve heard about the importance of weight management and physical activity from the Healthy Weigh class, but did you hear it from your doctors?
Despite mounds of evidence demonstrating that weight management and physical activity improve cancer outcomes, and that obesity increases the likelihood of recurrence, this information does not always find its way from scientific journals to the patients who need to hear it. To address this problem, the National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a workshop on translating the evidence into practical information for clinical practice and community-education. This article describes the workshop, and includes a review and summary of the many studies they discussed. There’s also an important discussion of the barriers that keep this information from patients:
Several factors currently limit the ability to deliver weight management and PA programs to all cancer survivors who need them. These barriers exist at multiple levels. …[They] include factors such as high costs, lack of geographic access to these programs, or lack of knowledge or motivation of how to change health behaviors. These may be compounded by barriers at the level of the clinician, such as lack of clinician comfort with discussing weight with patients or lack of knowledge of which intervention to refer or prescribe, as well as competing demands for time in the clinical encounter. Finally, barriers at the level of the health care system and the environment present further challenges; for example, a lack of prioritization of PA, weight management, or disease prevention in general; a lack of insurance coverage for lifestyle change programs; or the obesogenic environment.
The workshop identified three challenges that must be overcome to consistently get weight management and physical activity information to patients: (1) research is needed to identify which interventions will work best for survivors of different cancer types (and given other life and health circumstances); (2) research is needed to determine how best to deliver the education/exercise interventions to patients (e.g., through the clinic, or through community programs such as LiveStrong, etc.); (3) more evidence and targeted research is needed to convince insurers to cover these programs.
(Hey, clients of The Gathering Place have access to weight management education and exercise classes for free! How awesome is that?!)