Who isn’t afraid of the word “cancer”? We all know a family member or a friend who had it. And indeed, according to the American Cancer Society, more than one million people in the United States get cancer each year. According to scientific studies, certain foods such as hot dogs, potato chips and even sugar could possibly increase the risk of cancer.
The American Cancer Society lists many possible causes for cancer disease, including genetic factors, lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, lack of physical activity, certain types of inflammation and environmental exposures to different types of chemicals and radiation.
Since I’m very interested in healthy nutrition, I wrote in the past about the foods that could prevent cancer, but it won’t help if we eat those foods while consuming large amounts of other foods that can increase the risk of cancer.
Lets have a look at these cancer causing foods so we all know not only what to eat, but what NOT to eat (or at least reduce their intake).
1. High Intakes of Red Meat, Processed Meat (Such as Hot Dogs) or Charred Food
It has been found that bowel and stomach cancers are more common in people who eat lots of red and processed meat.
Red meat includes all fresh, minced and frozen beef, pork, lamb or veal. Also processed meats posses a risk for cancer. These have been preserved in some way other than freezing and include bacon, ham, salami, sausages, corned beef, black pudding, pâté and tinned meat.
When you eat processed meats, you’re almost assuredly consuming sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate, which are added to processed and cured meats to preserve color and extend shelf life. Unfortunately, these compounds can be converted to nitrosamines, which are also known to cause cancer in laboratory rats (though again, the link to people is unclear).
Also hot dogs, bacon and the like may also be preserved by methods involving smoke or salt, which also increases the exposure to potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
Also charred food creates chemicals that can damage our cells, making them more likely to become cancerous. Therefore the way you cook your meat can potentially make a big difference in the cancer risk it poses to you. Well-done and char-grilled meats that are slightly burnt on the outside are among the worst foods that increase the risk for cancer. You can read more about it in my article about the best cooking methods for cancer prevention.
Hot dogs are America’s number one treat with more than seven billion of them consumed every summer. They hit the streets in the 19th century when they were introduced by the German immigrants. Soon, they were given an iconic status and became a part of many nations’ eating culture.
But when you look at what goes into hot dogs and how they are made, you might be surprised to find out that this much loved food is lurking with health dangers.
Hot Dogs are a Health Hazard
Frankfurters are nutritionally empty processed foods. There is nothing natural about them and the factories produce them in a highly robotized manner at an astonishing rate of 300,000 hot dogs per hour.
Traditionally, hot dogs are made from a mixture of pork, beef and chicken. Leftovers from cutting steaks or pork chops and ‘edible’ slaughter by-products are used. These include fatty tissue, skins, animal feet and heads.
These trimmings are grounded and mixed together into a thick paste. To make the sausages taste good, a plethora of additives is added, including excessive amounts of salt, corn syrup, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, and other chemicals (in this regard, read my previous article about the top 10 worst ingredients in food).
Flavorings vary depending on where the hot dogs are sold, as people in different regions have different tastes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list flavorings on the label, so just about anything goes. Flavorings include the infamous monosodium glutamate (MSG) and carmine – a dye from the shells of small beetles, boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate.
Hot Dogs can Cause Cancer
Nitrates and nitrites are the next on the list of problematic additives used in hot dogs. In the presence of high heat they combine with amines in processed meat to form nitrosamines.
It’s the nitrosamines that have been linked to cancer – especially colon, bladder, stomach, and pancreas cancer.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, one hot dog a day increases your risk for colorectal cancer by 21%. Even organic hot dogs contain nitrite, sometimes even in higher amounts than the conventional hot dogs.
Processed meats in general have been shown to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67% in a study by the University of Hawaii.
2. High Intake of Processed Foods
Many different substances are added to commercially prepared foods, such as artificial colors, chemical flavors, salt, sugar or artificial sweeteners (read my article about the top 10 worst ingredients in food).
These additives are constantly investigated by researchers to check if any of them is thought to be of a real risk. Sometimes a particular additive or additives are thought to be of a cancer risk. Heavily salted, smoked and pickled foods, for example, may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
This may explain why there is such a high rate of stomach cancer in Japan, where salty, pickled foods are popular. Also an epidemiological study published in June 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet high in salt can increase the risk of stomach cancer in 10%. Also artificial food coloring presents many health risks.
The research on artificial food coloring and cancer is limited to animal studies, including mice and rats, but some claim that these dyes are toxic – possibly toxic enough to cause cancer also in humans.
The role of sugar in the formation, growth and metastasis of cancer cells is a topic that has often divided the scientific community. There are sources that promote the idea that sugar feeds cancer. They suggest that eating foods with sugar makes cancer grow faster.
The opponents claim that as a result, some cancer patients avoid eating any sugar, and eliminating beneficial foods, such as fruits, that contain essential nutrients. They claim that there is no conclusive research on human subjects to prove that sugar makes cancerous cells grow.
Avoiding foods with processed sugar is a good idea in general, but eliminating foods with natural sugar won’t stop cancer cells from dividing. According to Mayo clinic, sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.
Apparently, the link between sugar and cancer is different – according to Canadian Cancer Society, eating lots of sugary foods are more likely to cause you to gain weight. Research shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk of cancer. This is because obesity may cause changes in hormone levels or insulin that might increase the risk of developing breast, colon or uterine cancer. Therefore limiting the amount of sugar in your diet is important. Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to overweight and obesity, which indirectly increases cancer risk over time.
On the other hand, there are different opinions, and I’ve written about a new research that suggests a different approach, and you can read more about it in my article research reveals how sugar causes cancer.
Sugar can be found not only in obvious foods such as cookies, cakes, sodas, soft drinks and other sweets. Sugar can be found even in pasta sauce, salad dressing and canned vegetables. So when reading food labels, look for sugar listed as the first ingredient and be aware of hidden sugar names: fructose, lactose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, dextrose. Natural sugars such as molasses, honey and maple syrup contain beneficial antioxidants but those, too, should be consumed in moderation.
If you tend to have sugar cravings, you may want to read my article about 13 effective ways to quit sugar. Reducing the amount of refined sugar is also one of the 70 habits featured in my e-book which will guide you how to take positive steps to improve your wellness and overall health
The most (in)famous of the dangerous substances found in chips is . French fries, potato chips and other snacks may contain high levels of acrylamide, which is a carcinogenic substance that forms when foods are heated at high temperatures, such as during baking, roasting, toasting or frying. Acrylamide may be found in any food heated to a temperature above 250° F, but potato chips and French fries have been found to contain the highest levels among foods tested.
Cooking methods such as frying, baking or roasting are more likely to produce acrylamide, while boiling, steaming, and microwaving appear less likely to do so. Longer cooking times and cooking at higher temperatures can increase the amount of acrylamide in foods further.
Some believe that baked chips varieties are a healthier alternative. However it turns out that baked chips may even be worse than its fried counterpart and can contain three times higher levels of acrylamide compared to regular chips.
The amount of acrylamide that has been deemed safe for human consumption in drinking water is 0.12 micrograms in an 8-ounce glass of water or 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). When the FDA checked acrylamide content in some of the most common food products, the levels were surprisingly high.
Potato chips companies promised to reduce the acrylamide content in their products. This is easier said than done. According to the EU project, known as Heat-Generated Food Toxicants (HEATOX), you cannot simply eliminate acrylamide. If you heat food at high temperatures, the levels of acrylamide can be reduced by 40% at the most when using all the known methods.
HEATOX’s scientists also established that altogether there are more than 800 heat-induced compounds, of which 52 are potential carcinogens. Some of the dangerous substances created in high-temperature cooking include:
It must be mentioned that prolonged exposure to acrylamide has caused a range of tumors in animal tests (rats and mice), whereas most of the human studies published so far have failed to find any links between acrylamide and various types of cancers. However many believe it has a potential to be a human carcinogen because of those animal studies.
If you’re still worried, the FDA and other public health groups say the best way is to follow the general advice on healthy eating, including limiting the consumption of fried and fatty foods.
Another components found in these type of foods that may increase the risk of cancer are trans fats or trans fatty acids.
These are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats via a process called hydrogenation. And indeed, trans fats can be found in many foods including vegetable shortening, margarine, crackers, cereals, candies, baked goods, cookies, granola bars, chips, snack foods, salad dressings, fried foods, fats and many other processed foods.
Trans fats cannot only increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, but the high intake of trans-fatty acids may have a direct association with prostate cancer in men, which ranks number one among the most common malignant cancers in American men.
Chronic inflammation plays an important role in the development of prostate cancer and the association of trans-fats and chronic inflammation may explain the link between prostate cancer and trans-fatty acid ingestion. However, further studies and clinical trials are needed to establish this fact.
5. Excess Alcohol
There is a strong scientific consensus of the link between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. The more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK and American Cancer society, alcohol can increase the risk of a number of cancers, such as mouth cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and throat cancer.
You’ve probably heard about other studies that have found that certain substances in red wine, such as resveratrol, have anti cancer properties, but like many thing in life moderation is the key. As part of its guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recommends that people who drink alcohol, limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women.