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Highly-Processed Carbs May Double Risk for Certain Cancers

Credit: Kirk McKoy / Contributor / Getty

Long avoided by dieters and health-conscious eaters in general, carbs are rapidly building an even greater negative reputation after a newly-released study suggests that highly-processed carbs might be linked to an increased cancer risk.

Participants in the 20 years-long study—which is considered preliminary until it's published in a peer-reviewed journal—who regularly consumed processed carbohydrates (pizza, burgers, meat sandwiches, and sugar-sweetened beverages) had double the risk of being diagnosed with cancer compared to people who did not eat those types of foods.

This increased risk was especially high with cases of prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in American men. In particular, this study found that men who drank sugary beverages (think: soda or fruit juices that often contain added sugar) were three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men who never drank sugary drinks.

There's good news though. These findings, which were presented at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting, also state that some healthy lower-glycemic carbohydrate options (peas, legumes, and beans) actually reduced the risk of cancer by 32 percent, especially overweight- and obesity-related cancers like breast, prostate, and colorectal. What's more, women who ate legumes, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains lowered their risk of breast cancer by 67 percent.

While the study is not without its flaws--the researchers themselves point out that the test group was not racially diverse (study volunteers were 99 percent Caucasian), and these are more associations rather than cause-and-effect--it does seem to line up with previous cancer research findings.

What You Can Do Right Now: Avoiding highly-processed carbs doesn't mean completely changing your diet. Just make simple swaps to healthier carb alternatives. Making smarter carb choices can be as easy as choosing whole-grain bread over white, skipping chip snacking for a high-fiber option like nuts, or even reaching for a nice wine nightcap over beer.

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