Cancer is a complex group of diseases with many possible causes. Known causes of cancer include:
- Genetic factors
- Lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, diet, and physical activity
- Certain types of infections
- Environmental exposures to different types of chemicals and radiation
How much do daily habits like diet and exercise affect your risk for cancer? Much more than you might think. Research has shown that poor diet and not being active are 2 key factors that can increase a person’s cancer risk. The good news is that you do something about this.
Besides quitting smoking, some of the most important things you can do to help reduce your cancer risk are:
- Get to and stay at a healthy weight throughout life.
- Be physically active on a regular basis.
- Make healthy food choices with a focus on plant-based foods.
The evidence for this is strong. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could also be prevented.
Top 8 Cancer-Causing Foods
1. Refined and Artificial Sugars
Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and fructose-rich sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup are not good for your health.
These products tend to rapidly spike insulin levels and feed the growth of cancer cells.
According to a 2006 study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition journal, high intake of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Instead of using refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, you can try alternatives like honey, jaggery, blackstrap molasses, maple syrup or the herb stevia to sweeten any dish.
2. Processed or Red Meat
Processed meats such as ham, sausage and bacon have chemicals and preservatives like sodium nitrates, which make them bad for your health. In addition, processed meat contains excessive salt, which is also not good for you.
In a 2008 study published in the Nutrition and Cancer journal, researchers found that processed meat intake might be involved in the etiology of colorectal cancer.
Along with processed meat, you must avoid excessive intake of red meat that can lead to higher risks of colon and prostate cancer.
To avoid the harmful effects of processed meat, try lean meat and cook your own food.
3. Farmed Salmon
Most of us are aware of the health benefits of eating salmon and even enjoy this fish a few times a week. However, many people do not think about whether they are eating farmed or wild salmon.
Farmed salmon is nowhere near as healthy as wild salmon, and eating farmed salmon puts you at a higher risk of developing cancer.
A 2004 study published in Science Magazine revealed that farmed salmon has significantly higher levels of cancer-causing and other health-related contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and toxaphene as compared to wild salmon.
The study even concluded that eating more than one farmed salmon meal a month could pose unacceptable cancer risks.
Farmed salmon also contains high levels of mercury and flame retardants.
As a majority of the salmon served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores is farmed rather than wild, you must avoid ordering salmon when eating out.
When buying salmon, make sure it is labeled as wild. Wild salmon is more expensive than farmed, but it’s worth the extra cost.
4. Pickled and Smoked Foods
Pickled and smoked foods are delicious but, at the same time, very harmful to the body.
In fact, smoked meats that pick up tar from the smoking process cause extreme harm to your body. Plus, most pickled foods contain nitrates that turn into N-nitroso, which increases your risk of cancer.
Moreover, they contain preservatives to prolong shelf life, which can accumulate in your body over time. This can cause damage at the cellular level and lead to cancer and other diseases.
Smoked foods are high in fat and, when cooked at high temperatures, the nitrates are converted to nitrites, which is even more harmful to the body.
Try to avoid pickled and smoked foods as much as possible.
5. Hydrogenated Oil
Hydrogenated oil is not extracted naturally like olive, soy or canola oil and hence is not good for your health. Chemically extracted from vegetables, hydrogenated oil is again chemically treated to change the smell and taste, as well as extend its shelf life. This type of oil is used to preserve processed foods.
Some amount of omega–6 fatty acids is good for your health. However, an excess like that found in hydrogenated oil influences the structure and flexibility of cell membranes. This in turn increases your cancer risk, especially for skin cancer.
Moreover, the trans fats in hydrogenated oil promote breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer risk. You must never cook with hydrogenated oil.
Instead, use extra-virgin olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil or palm oil.
6. Potato Chips
Children as well as adults like potato chips. To make potato chips crispy, they are deep-fried in temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit).
This causes them to make a material called acrylamide, a well-known carcinogen found in cigarettes.
According to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Cancer, dietary acrylamide puts you at a higher risk of ovarian, prostate, digestive tract and breast cancers.
Potato chips are also high in fat and calories, which contribute to unhealthy weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other health problems. Plus, they contain artificial flavors and numerous preservatives that are not good for your health.
Instead of buying potato chips from the market, make them at home using healthy oil like olive oil. You can also opt for baked potato chips or tortilla chips, which contain less fat and calories. You can also try baked apple or banana chips, which are much healthier than regular potato chips.
7. Microwave Popcorn
While watching a movie or television at home, many of us like to have popcorn. Pop a little bag in the microwave and a big bowl of tasty popcorn is ready. However, microwave popcorn puts you at a higher risk of cancer.
Conventional microwave popcorn bags contain a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is highly toxic in nature.
In fact, several studies have found that people with workplace exposure to PFOA are at a higher risk of bladder and kidney cancers.
In addition, according to a 2009 study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, PFOA can cause impaired fertility in women.
When it comes to ingredients, microwave popcorn has soybean oil (a GMO product) and various preservatives, such as propyl gallate.
If you love popcorn, make it in an air popper to avoid these health-related concerns.
8. Refined White Flour
A common ingredient in processed foods is refined white flour. Refined flour contains excess carbohydrates that are not good for your health and even increase the risk of cancer. During the milling process, white flour is bleached with chlorine gas, which is highly toxic for the body.
In fact, studies have shown that excess carbohydrate intake increases the risk of breast cancer among women. In addition, white flour has a high-glycemic rate that rapidly raises blood sugar levels.
A spike in blood sugar promotes cancer cell growth and spreading.
Instead of using refined white flour, try some healthier options like whole-wheat, almond, quinoa or barley flour. You can use these flours for baking or making breads.