Scientists have identified many so-called superfoods that appear to lower the risk of developing cancer. But what about the flip side? There are some potentially cancer-causing foods out there. The science is less clear on these potentially dangerous foods, but you may want to avoid these questionable foods and chemical compounds when possible.
1. Processed Meats
Just when bacon has become more popular than ever (bacon desserts, anyone?) diners received some unwelcome news. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a carcinogen or a substance that causes cancer. “Processed meat” refers to meat treated in some way to preserve or flavor it, whether by fermenting, smoking, salting or curing. Bacon, sausage hot dogs, ham and some deli meats are all included. The evidence shows that people who ate the equivalent of a hot dog every day faced an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. While the cancer risk of eating a lot of processed meats doesn’t seem to carry such dire risk as smoking, for instance, experts still recommend a healthy, well-rounded diet that includes exercise. According to Carole Havrila, registered dietitian at UVA Cancer Center, colorectal cancer incidence can be reduced by about a third by making healthier dietary choices.
2. Charred Meats
The National Cancer Institute has determined that cooking any kind of meat using high-temperature methods creates certain chemicals that cause changes in cellular DNA that in return may increase your risk of cancer. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when beef, pork, fish or poultry are pan fried or grilled over an open flame. According to the agency, HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhausts. Exposure to high levels of both can cause cancer in animals, but it’s unclear whether such exposure causes cancer in humans.
3. Trans Fats
Trans fats are created when liquid oils are treated to remain solid at room temperature, which helps make mass-produced foods last longer on the shelf. But in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that trans fats are not generally recognized as safe. In addition to causing a variety of harmful symptoms in people, trans fats appear to be cancer-causing foods, as shown by the highly regarded Nurses’ Health Study, which has followed 121,700 female nurses in 11 states since 1976. Researchers have learned from the study that women who ate greater quantities of trans fats have been more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The FDA set a three-year time limit for U.S. manufacturers to remove trans fats from all processed foods.
4. Other Fats
When it comes to other types of fats, the news is somewhat better. As the American Cancer Society (ACS) describes, research once suspected an association between a high fat intake and common cancers, including breast and colon cancer. But, also according to the ACS, there’s more research needed to see if any specific type of fats is cancer-causing foods. What does contribute to your cancer risk, however, is being overweight, so Breastcancer.org suggests limiting your fat intake. The general advice about eating less, moving more and including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet applies here.
The National Cancer Institute calls alcohol a “known cause of cancer.” When people drink large amounts of alcohol regularly, they become more likely to develop mouth and throat cancers, as well as cancers of the esophagus, liver, breast and colon. The NCI emphasizes that the risk of developing cancer increases with the amount of alcohol a person drinks, so limit yourself to one (for women) to two drinks (for men) a day, as the ACS recommends.
During the summer season, cookouts abound, and it’s easy to sit back, relax and enjoy a grilled hot dog and chilled beer. Just remember, the dietary choices you make can directly impact your cancer risk and avoiding cancer-causing foods whenever possible can help lower it.