The causes of breast cancer are hard to pinpoint, but an unhealthy diet composed of too many ultra-processed foods can increase a woman’s risk of having that disease, according to a 2018 study.

Published in the journal The BMJ, the study evaluated the answers provided by 104,980 middle-aged French adults to dietary questionnaires for five years to look for potential associations between consumption of ultra-processed foods and risk of overall cancer and breast, prostate, and bowel cancers.

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The foods were classified according to the degree of processing. Ultra-processed foods refer to products that contain high levels of fat, sugar, and salt but lack fiber and vitamins, such as baked goods, sugary cereals, fizzy drinks, ready-made meals, and reconstituted meats.

The researchers discovered that a 10 percent increase in the risk of cancer in general and 11 percent in the risk of breast cancer. There was no significant link found for prostate and colorectal cancers.

On the other hand, consuming less processed foods, like cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread, did not appear to have a significant link with risk of cancer, while consuming fresh or minimally processed foods, like fruits, vegetables, rice, and fish, was linked with lower risks of overall cancer and breast cancer.

The researchers emphasize that this study does not conclusively say that breast cancer is caused by ultra-processed foods. However, according to BreastCancer.org, eating healthy can help boost your body’s immune system and reduce your risk of breast cancer.

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The American Cancer Society says that one way women can reduce their risk of breast cancer is by getting to and maintaining a healthy weight by having a nutritious diet and being physically active. Consuming too many processed foods can cause weight gain, which is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause.

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