When you’re thinking about what’s safe to eat and what’s not, a few things probably come to mind. For one, you want to make sure your food hasn’t gone bad. You also want to make sure it’s relatively nutritious. You might have your blood pressure in mind, or heart disease. But one thing that you might not be thinking about is a huge risk: cancer.
The foods you eat can play a role in whether or not you endure a cancer diagnosis later in life. Of course, it’s not the only factor — and compared with larger influences such as whether or not you smoke cigarettes, your genetic history, and pure chance, your diet is relatively less influential. However, if you’re minimizing your risk, it can’t hurt to pay some attention to what’s on your plate.
Many people are unaware of the relationship between food and cancer — or, if they are aware, there are some serious misunderstandings. For instance, many people believe that certain types of fat increase the risk of cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, there is no solid evidence to show any kind of fat makes an impact in cancer risk (though fats do have an impact on other aspects of your health).
Luckily, the American Cancer Society (ACS) compiled the results of hundreds of accredited studies in order to create a simple guide on their website answering all of the questions you might have regarding food and cancer. After consulting their resources and the results of research, these are the foods that could actually increase your risk of cancer.
To add to the list of reasons drinking too much is a bad idea: Alcohol significantly increases your risk of cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of cancer in the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum, according to the American Cancer Society. Though red wine does contain powerful antioxidants that could help prevent against certain health problems, it’s wise to limit yourself to a glass or two. The ACS advises a limit of one glass a day for women and two for men.
Bacon could be bad for you for more reasons than just extra fat. Even if you opt for lower-fat versions, this popular pork product is often overly processed, involving nitrates and other additives. The ACS notes that there isn’t enough evidence to link any degree of fat intake to an increased risk of cancer; but eating too many processed meats can certainly increase your risk, according to some studies.
Ladies, you’re in the clear for this one. But men should be cautious of overdoing it on this mineral. Some amount of calcium is necessary to maintain the health of your bones and other organs. But too much calcium, which one might ingest were they to eat calcium-rich foods and calcium supplements, has been linked in some studies to an increased risk of prostate cancer according to the ACS.
Buying canned foods can definitely cut costs at the grocery store, but is it worth the risk? Some — not all — cans have linings that include bisphenol-A (BPA), a compound that could potentially damage DNA. This damaging effect is suspected to contribute to the development of certain cancers, according to recent research. Most concentrations are low and some cans are made BPA-free. But if you’re unsure, you might want to stick to buying your vegetables frozen to save money instead of canned.
Though deli meats are high in protein and low in calories, they’re often overly processed — especially if you buy them pre-packaged. Some brands cut down on processing and omit nitrates and other additives, but it’s still wise not to overdo it. Eating an excess of processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.
The high temperatures needed to fry indulgent foods like french fries and doughnuts make foods delicious and crispy; but they also create compounds that could contribute to cancer risk. For this reason, the ACS recommends other methods of cooking, such as poaching or stewing. Boiled potatoes aren’t as tasty, sure, but you could save yourself a carcinogen or two.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables comes highly recommended by the American Cancer Society — and most health professionals around the world. But, as the ACS notes on their website, it matters how you cook them. Grilling at high temperatures can create compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which create the char you see on your food. These chemicals have been shown in studies to damage DNA and cause cancer in animals, suggesting that the same effect may occur in humans.
Protein is an important part of any diet, but you might want to limit the amount you’re getting from red meats. Fatty cuts of red meat — such as those used in hamburgers and steaks — have been linked in some studies to pancreatic, colorectal, and stomach cancers. There are some reasons that red meat is good for you, too. It’s all about how much of it you’re eating. Maybe don’t eat a fast food burger every day.
Some foods, including fish, meat, and vegetables are sometimes preserved using a method called salting, where salt is used to keep food edible for long periods of time. This method isn’t common in the United States — but if you do run into some food that’s been salt-cured, be wary. According to the American Cancer Society, high intake of these foods could increase the risk of stomach, nasopharyngeal, and throat cancer. But if you cook with salt or eat American foods that contain salt, don’t be too worried. The ACS says that these foods have not been definitively linked to an increase in cancer. There are actually a lot of reasons moderate amounts of salt can be good for your health!
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