Good vs Bad

Low Quality Food with Low Nutrient Density Linked to Cancer

For the first time, a low quality diet, as defined by the concentration of micronutrients per calorie, was strongly associated with and offered great predictive value for an individual’s risk of developing cancer.  While there are many forms of cancer and not all have the same strength of association with diet quality, many of the most common types were closely tied to the presence of low quality food choices.  Although some readers may have already assumed these findings to be true, it is a major breakthrough that should strengthen public health efforts to eliminate processed food from the daily diet.  There is still a pervasive opinion by many health experts that diet is not linked to cancer and that cancer is too complex to be tied to an individual’s food choices.  This study suggests otherwise.

Over 471,000 European adults participated in this research as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) Study.  Those Europeans, primarily from England, France, and Belgium, with lower nutrient density diets had the highest risk of cancers, most notably of the digestive tract and liver.  The team of investigators feel that this diet is a leading risk factor for two reasons: the increased burden of metabolizing refined carbohydrates and sugar-based foods and the absence of essential micronutrients that play pivotal roles in the body’s defense systems against cancer.

Increased vegetable consumption is the single most effective way to increase the nutrient density of the diet.  Dark green, leafy vegetables lead the way with very high levels of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients per calorie of energy.  This class of vegetables may be the most protective group of foods available.  Sweetened foods and those foods made with flour and/or low quality seed oils, most often high in omega 6 fatty acids, typically represent the lowest nutrient dense foods.  These low quality foods often displace those that provide us the greatest levels of nourishment.

~ John Bagnulo MPH, PhD.


Deschasaux M et al. Nutritional quality of food as represented by the FSAm-NPS nutrient profiling system underlying the Nutri-Score label and cancer risk in Europe: Results from the EPIC prospective cohort studyPLOS Medicine, 2018; 15 (9): e1002651.