Your health is your best asset, and your diet can have a huge impact on it. You probably have a general idea of which foods you should be eating—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish—but what about which ones to avoid? Here’s a list of 16 potentially cancer-causing foods.
1. Canned tomatoes
Food cans are typically lined with bisphenol-a (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to cancer and other serious health problems. Because they’re so acidic, tomatoes are more likely to leech problematic levels of BPA from the can into the food. Stick to fresh tomatoes to avoid contamination.
2. Refined sugar
Research conducted way back in 1931 found sugar provides fuel for tumors, allowing them to grow in size. In addition to wreaking havoc on your metabolism, processed sugars may be more readily accessible to cancer cells. Cancer Treatment Centers of America explores the effects of different types of sugar on the body here.
Although moderate consumption can lower your risk of heart disease (as I write about here), alcohol abuse is the leading cause of cancer behind tobacco use. A meta-analysis of drinking and cancer risk found an association between heavy drinking and an increased risk of mouth, colon, liver, and other cancers.
4. French fries and potato chips
Acrylamide, a chemical used in certain industrial processes that’s also found in cigarette smoke, can form in starchy foods like potatoes when they’re cooked at high temperatures. While more research is needed, the American Cancer Society supports continued evaluation of acrylamide and its effects.
5. Processed meat
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meat as a carcinogen after experts from 10 countries looking at more than 800 studies found eating 50 grams—about four strips of bacon or one hot dog—every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
6. Mass produced Bread
Potassium bromate, a food additive used to make bread dough more elastic, has been identified as a possible carcinogen by many health organizations and is banned in the EU, UK, Canada, and Brazil. In the United States, California requires a warning label for products containing this ingredient, which is sometimes listed as brominated flour.
7. Artificial colors
A 2010 report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest called Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks concluded the nine FDA-approved artificial dyes approved in the United States may be carcinogenic, cause behavior problems, and/or are inadequately tested.
8. Microwave popcorn
Some microwave popcorn bags are lined with a chemical that decomposes to produce perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA has been linked to an increased risk of liver, prostate, and other cancers. Another chemical used in artificial butter flavor, diacetyl, may cause lung damage. It’s easy to make your own microwave popcorn with a brown paper bag and some coconut oil.
9. Hydrogenated oils
In addition to being bad for your heart, hydrogenated oils can cause inflammation and cell damage that has been linked to cancer and other diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned partially hydrogenated oils in January of 2015, giving food manufacturers three years to remove them from their products.
10. Charred meats
The high temperatures used to heavily grill meat can produce carcinogens called heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons if you like your steak well-done.
11. Farmed salmon
Salmon raised on farms are more likely to be contaminated by carcinogens. According to the Environmental Working Group, farmed salmon have 16 times the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in wild salmon.
12. Soda (Or “Pop” if you’re from the Midwest)
A Swedish study found men who drank one 11-oz. soda a day were 40% more likely to develop prostate cancer. And an analysis by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and US Consumer Reports found an association between 4-methylimidazole, the chemical that gives some soda its caramel color, and increased cancer risk.
13. Red meat
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans based on evidence showing a link between its consumption and the development of colorectal cancer.
14. Pasta – well, too much Pasta
Pasta, bagels, and other “white” carbohydrates have a high glycemic index (GI), meaning they more rapidly elevate blood sugar levels. A recent study showed people whose diets had a high GI had a 49 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer. Adding healthy fats (like olive oil) and protein to pasta helps lower the overall glycemic index of the meal it is a part of. Some pasta, like Braille ProteinPlus, has a lower glycemic index.
A 2004 meta-analysis found a positive association between milk consumption and prostate cancer. Some experts believe the animal fat in dairy products may increase cancer risk.
16. Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)
Studies indicate an association between GMOs—and the chemicals used to grow them—and the development of tumors.
Now that you know 16 cancer-causing foods to avoid, are you ready to learn more about ways you can take charge of your health?
Are you getting the nutrients you need for long-term health? Download my Top 10 Supplements For Men PDF to learn about the most critical supplements you need.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.