For many people, a cancer diagnosis is one of their worst nightmares. Cancer is an extremely complex disease that comes in different types with varying symptoms. Although genetics and family history play an important role, your lifestyle can make a huge difference. Mayo Clinic suggests abstaining from tobacco use, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, using sun protection, getting applicable vaccinations, and eating a healthy diet.
Typically, we consider a healthy diet to be a balance of good-for-you foods like fruits and vegetables and the occasional cocktail on the weekend. However, there are specific foods you should avoid that have been known to increase the chances of cancer.
1. Processed Meats
When meat is processed, it means it’s been smoked, salted, cured or canned. These methods preserve the meat but simultaneously create carcinogens. A carcinogen is a chemical or physical agent that can cause human cancers. Carcinogens can come in natural or man-made forms and hurt the body by interacting with DNA to stimulate genetic mutations.
There is “convincing evidence” that processed meat causes cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Studies have shown that processed meats are specifically connected to colorectal, stomach and breast cancers. Processed meats to be avoided include hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky and lunch meat.
2. Red Meat
While lean red meat certainly has its nutritional merits, research shows that there are both added and naturally occurring chemicals in red meat that make them hazardous. N-nitroso chemicals are formed when the gut breaks down meats like beef, lamb, or pork. These chemicals have been known to damage bowel cells, leading to bowel cancer. To reduce your risk of cancer without completely giving up red meat, it is recommended that you eat no more than 65g to 100g of red meat per week.
When cooking meat, you need to be especially careful not to overcook it. Cooking meat on high heat can create carcinogens because the higher the heat, the more likely you are to overcook it. Char marks produce cancer-causing chemicals, which can prove harmful when consumed copiously.
While it isn’t necessary to completely forego grilling, consider trying other cooking methods. For example, rather than grilling red meat, try pressure cooking or baking at lower temperatures.
Unfortunately, there is ample proof that alcohol can increase your risk of several types of cancer. Mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, stomach, and bowel cancers have all been linked to alcohol. However, there is some good news. In some forms of cancer, the risk is thought to be dependent on how much alcohol is consumed. For example, a glass of wine with dinner every Friday isn’t going to have the same impact as binge-drinking three nights a week.
In fact, studies have shown that grape skins used to make red wine contain a compound called resveratrol that can act as an antioxidant that helps fight cancer. Nevertheless, medical professionals typically advise keeping your alcohol intake low.
4. Junk Food
Regularly consuming foods or drinks high in fat, starches, or sugar can create a very unhealthy domino effect. Regularly consuming junk food can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. If you develop type 2 diabetes or become obese, your risk of ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers heightens exponentially.
According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than 25g of sugar per day and men should have a maximum of 36 g: that’s about 100 and 150 calories respectively. Most Americans consume much more than that recommendation. If you can’t give up dessert, try to get your sugar fix from fruit. You’ll still get to enjoy that sweet taste without the risks associated with processed foods.
Foods you should eat for cancer prevention
While no specific food is guaranteed to prevent cancer, there are many foods that contain nutrients that can lower your risk.
- Fruits and vegetables: Eating a variety of dark green, red, and orange fruits and veggies provide nutrients and support a healthy lifestyle. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene, which has been known to decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
- Garlic: Including garlic in your meals can reduce the risk of stomach and bowel cancers.
- Whole grains: When your meals consistently include fiber-rich whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats and whole grain bread, studies show you’re getting extra protection from colorectal cancer.
When it comes to food with carcinogens, it’s important to be aware of how much you are consuming and limiting that intake if necessary. While you don’t have to completely cut out these foods, your diet should be well-rounded and balanced overall. The key to cancer prevention as it relates to your diet is to be consistent with your daily wellness habits.