Energy dense foods may increase obesity-related cancer risk regardless of weight

August 25, 2017 in Cancer Prevention, Healthy Eating, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Energy dense foods may increase obesity-related cancer risk regardless of weight

Current research shows that an estimated 30% of cancers could be prevented through dietary modifications. While there is a proven link between obesity and certain types of cancer, less is known about how the ratio of energy (calories) to food weight, otherwise known as dietary energy density (DED), contributes to cancer risk.

What is "dietary energy density"?

DED is a measure of food quality and the relationship of its calories to nutrients. The more calories per gram of weight a food has, the higher its DED. Whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and beans are considered low-DED foods because they provide a lot of nutrients using very few calories.

Processed foods, like hamburgers and pizza, are considered high-DED foods because you need a larger amount to get necessary nutrients. Previous studies have shown that regular consumption of foods high in DED contributes to weight gain in adults.

Consuming high DED foods tied to higher risk obesity-related cancer independent of weight

In order to learn of how DED alone relates to cancer risk, researchers from the University of Arizona used data on 90,000 postmenopausal women from the Women's Health Initiative including their diet and any diagnosis of cancer.

The team found that women who consumed a diet higher in DED were 10% more likely to develop an obesity-related cancer, independent of body mass index. In fact, the study revealed that the increased risk appeared limited to women who were of a normal weight at enrollment in the program.

This finding suggests that weight management alone may not protect against obesity-related cancers should women eat a diet that has a high energy density.

Although restricting calorie-dense foods may play a role in weight management, investigators found that weight gain was not solely responsible for the rise in cancer risk among normal weight women in the study. They hypothesize that the higher DED in normal-weight women may cause metabolic dysregulation that is independent of body weight, which may, in turn, increase cancer risk.

These new findings should help motivate postmenopausal women to choose low DED foods, even if they are already at a healthy body weight.

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017.

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