Are You Eating Your Way to Cancer?

January 24, 2009

Some of your favorite foods may be putting you at greater risk for getting cancer. Here are the important things you need to know about which foods to avoid, and which ones to include in your cancer prevention plan.


The way food is prepared can increase your risk of getting cancer. When meats are roasted, grilled or smoked at high temperatures, an unintended but harmful chemical is produced. The high-temperature cooking produces a cancer-causing compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). It's produced when juices from meat drip onto the heat source, creating dangerous smoke containing PAH that is absorbed back into the meat. Frequent consumption has been associated with breast, lung and gastric cancers. To minimize your cancer risk, follow these steps:
  • trim excess fat from the meat prior to cooking;
  • boil or bake the meat first, before roasting or grilling;
  • wrap the meat with foil before roasting or grilling; the foil helps reduce the amount of dripping during the roasting and grilling process;
  • grill at a lower temperature, and consider using an electric grill with temperature control;
  • remove any burnt parts of the meat before serving.
Moreover, cooking meats including beef, pork and poultry by frying them at high temperature can also increase your cancer risk, as the high- temperature frying process produces a cancer-causing compound called heterocyclic amine (HCA).

High-temperature cooking isn't just a problem with meats. A Swedish study found that other foods that were fried or baked at very high temperatures - foods including french fries, potato chips and cookies - were found to contain acrylamide, a chemical believed to cause cancer.

Frequent consumption of foods fried in re-used frying oils can also increase one's cancer risk, as the heating process can produce chemical changes to the oil that have been linked to some cancers of the digestive system. And breathing the oil fumes produced during cooking is associated with a higher lung cancer risk.


Saturated fat is harmful to your health and is a known risk factor for many types of cancer. Foods ranging from red meats like beef and pork, along with eggs, milk and other dairy products, including butter, cheese and yoghurt, plus palm, coconut and hydrogenated oils, all contain high levels of saturated fat - the "unhealthy fat" that can cause serious health damage. Saturated fat is a leading cause of high cholesterol and heart disease, and it has also been linked to many types of cancer, including intestinal, breast and prostate cancers.


It's nearly impossible to avoid processed or preserved foods, but some can be more harmful to health than others. Most processed and preserved meats such as ham, sausage and bacon contain the potentially harmful preservative potassium nitrate, a substance that is added to the meat to prevent it from spoiling and to enhance meat coloring. Some canned foods are preserved using sodium nitrate and nitrite, which also may prove harmful.

While consuming small amounts of these substances isn't considered harmful, it's best to limit consumption, as these preservatives have been linked to cancers of the digestive system including gastric cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as leukemia.


Foods that contain artificial flavoring and coloring are best avoided, or consumed only in moderation. These additives are perfectly legal and can be found in many kinds of food, but when consumed regularly over a long period of time, they have been shown to be a risk factor for some types of cancer. These substances are often found in products like unnaturally colorful candies. In addition, some "flawless" fruits and vegetables may have been grown using chemical insecticides or other chemical additives.


Although sodium chloride (the chemical name for common table salt) plays an important function by providing iodine to the body, too much sodium can lead to serious health problems. It's well known that eating a high-sodium diet raises blood pressure, but there are cancer risks as well. High sodium levels reduce the amount of potassium in the body, which can cause cell damage that in turn can lead to cancer.

Avoiding high-sodium foods such as salt-preserved foods and food prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can lower one's risk of gastric and esophageal cancer.


Aflatoxins are the most dangerous type of naturally-occurring, cancer-causing fungi. They are found in peanuts, corn, dried chilies, onions and garlic, as well as in some milk and other dairy products. Aflatoxin contamination usually occurs when these foods are improperly stored at temperatures that are too high and in high-moisture conditions. Consuming foods contaminated with aflatoxins has been linked to a higher risk of developing cancer and other liver diseases.


Ethanol is a type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. When we drink alcohol, our body's natural metabolic process converts the ethanol into acetaldehyde, a substance that can damage human cells and produce a variety of harmful health problems including oral cancer, liver cancer and gastric cancer. The risks are especially high for smokers.

Healthy eating is an important part of an effective cancer prevention plan. It's not enough to just avoid foods that have been linked to cancer; taking care of your overall health should include eating a balanced diet with foods from each of the five food groups, eating moderate-sized portions, and including plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamins A and E.

Combine healthy nutrition habits with plenty of exercise, sufficient sleep each night, reduced stress, use of sunblock when outdoors to protect against skin cancer, and follow your doctor's recommendation for annual check-ups and periodic screening tests.
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