The C word. It’s awful, it’s vile, it’s undesirable. That’s right, cancer. Cells mutate all the time, it’s part of evolution and it isn’t always a bad thing. But cancer is caused when cells become damaged and mutate in unhelpful ways. We encounter plenty of cell damaging factors every day. Many of these are unavoidable like carcinogens in the atmosphere caused by pollution, but we can control what we eat and avoid ingesting carcinogenic food. You might be surprised to learn where cancer is lurking in your lunch. Here are some cancer causing foods to avoid.
10) Processed Meats
Red meat should be eaten in moderation but processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, corned beef, and ham should be avoided altogether. Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate -known carcinogens- are added to these meats to preserve them and to “enhance” their colour. Have you ever tried to cook some canned corned beef or mutton and noticed that no matter how long it sizzled in the pan it never lost that pink colour? That’s the preservatives at work. For a cancer-free meat choice, try fresh poultry, organic fish, and fresh, uncured red meat in small amounts.
9) Fried Food
When we think of the reasons fried food is bad for us, the first thing that comes to mind is its high fat content. While it’s true that certain fats can heighten cholesterol and blood pressure, these fats and oils become even more dangerous when they are quick-cooked at high temperatures. When oils and fats -even good fats like the ones found in fish and olive oil- are heated to frying temperatures their molecular structure changes, creating a new substance called acrylamide which has been shown to cause cancer in rats.
8) Refined Sugars
Refined sugar doesn’t cause cancer directly, but it does help cancer to grow. Sugars occur naturally in all plants and they are an essential part of the food chain. They provide all life with the energy it needs to survive. But when sugars are refined, way too much energy is concentrated into a very small amount -more than we were ever intended to ingest naturally. This is why foods that are high in sugar cause weight gain. All that extra energy has to go somewhere and is stored as fat. But that extra energy can also feed existing cancer cells. Cancer cells require nutrients to grow just like healthy body cells. When there is an abundance of sugar in the bloodstream, that sugar feeds cancer cells and helps them grow into full fledged tumors.
You should avoid soda because of its high sugar content, but the caramel colour in many soda pops, especially cola, is even more cause for concern. It may give your drink a rich, enticing colour, but it’s also a known carcinogen. For a healthy alternative to soda pop, try a fruit juice press. Mix a splash of sweet fruit juice like apple or white grape with a full glass of bubbly soda water. No refined sugar, no caramel colour, and best of all, no cancer.
6) Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is a healthy snack (as long as you keep the butter and salt to a minimum) but microwave popcorn contains a whole bunch of additives to help make it pop. Unfortunately many of these additives are problematic. The bags are lined with chemicals to keep steam from escaping that have been linked to cancer. And the kernels themselves are coated with oils and additives to make them pop faster. When these additives are heated they release diacetyl fumes which are very harmful. If you love movie night, an air popper is a good investment for your home and your health. It saves money in the long run too.
5) Grilled Meat
Frying isn’t the only cancer culprit when it comes to high temperature foods. When meat is grilled, heterocyclic aromatic amines are formed. What this basically means is that the char marks on your burger or chicken breast are bad news. Lightly grilled meat eaten in moderation is okay, but if you like your steak well done it may be a better idea to skip it all together. Try roasting instead.
4) Hydrogenated Oils
With the rise of industry came the rise of the aesthetic. Food manufacturers want to make sure their products looks the best, and that means putting them through a cocktail of chemical processes. Chemicals aren’t all bad, in fact you are made of chemicals, but the balance of chemicals in the body is delicate and hydrogenated oils can throw it right off. Hydrogenating oils keeps them from separating, giving foods like peanut butter and salad dressing a more pleasant, uniform look. Unfortunately the chemicals used in the hydrogenation process can cause cancer and lawmakers have yet to ban their use. So get the all-natural peanut butter, the benefits to your health are worth stirring for.
3) Farmed Fish
The ocean is big for a reason. Animals need lots of room not just for their own comfort, but to help stop the spread of disease. On fish farms large populations of fish share a very small space where they eat, grow, and easily spread diseases to one another. To combat this, fish farmers load their livestock with antibiotics and pesticides, many of which have been linked to cancer. The fish don’t live long enough to develop cancer from these chemicals, but the carcinogens are still there when the fish makes it to your table. Choose wild salmon harvested through sustainable methods for your health and the environment.
Liver disease, dehydration, loss of cognitive function, heart failure, and now you can add cancer to the ever-growing list of reasons not to drink. Alcohol damages the lining of mouth and throat, leaving you vulnerable to all kinds of oral cancer, not to mention stomach cancer, bowel cancer, and even brain cancer. There is evidence that a glass of red wine can help fight cancer because of the antioxidants it contains, but you know what? A handful of blueberries is just as good.
1) White Flour
Like sugar, nature never intended starches to be as refined as we are able to make them today. Simple carbohydrates like white flour are easy for your body to break down into sugars which as we’ve said, can feed tumor growth. In addition to this, white flour is bleached using chlorine gas, another carcinogen to avoid. Choose whole grain cereal and breads and if you are making a treat that requires white flour, be sure to get it unbleached. The difference is only in the colour and even then, its negligible.
Carcinogens do exists naturally, but the bulk of the ones we are exposed to are by-products of technological advancement. Not all processed and non-organic foods are bad for you, but it is a good idea to be very scrutinous of these and all foods and to research them well before consuming them. Eating whole foods and foods with simple ingredients makes it easier to know exactly what you are getting.