When it comes to the food we eat, we need to be fully aware of everything – not just make a surface-level effort. This means being vigilant about where it comes from, what goes into the making of it, what the pros and cons are of eating it, etc.
This is important because sometimes, certain products that are marketed to us as “healthy” or we’ve somehow come to perceive as being good for us can turn to be exactly the opposite. In fact, some of them might even be carcinogens!
That’s why we need all the information we can possibly get. We’ll start you off with this list of 17 commonly consumed foods that cause cancer and what you should be eating instead.
Not only is soda jam-packed with sugar – cancer’s fuel of choice – but it often also contains caramel color. This artificial coloring has the carcinogenic chemical 4-MEI as a byproduct. Laboratory tests show that 4-MEI shows up in sodas with caramel color.
Alternatives – Water is always best, but if you really crave the sweet, bubbly hit of soda, choose a natural brand without caramel color.
2. Grilled Red Meat
While a nice char on that steak may taste good, the high temperatures used for its cooking produce cancer-causing hydrocarbons. And excessive consumption of red meat in general is thought to up your cancer risk.
Alternatives – Eat red meat sparingly, cook it carefully, and choose organic, grass fed beef if possible.
3. Microwave Popcorn
There’s a triple whammy here – the butter flavoring used in many microwave popcorn brands releases diacetyl, a known toxin, when cooked. Next, the perfluorooctanoic acid that lines the bags themselves is carcinogenic. And finally, popcorn producers are not required to report whether or not their kernels are GMO.
Alternatives – Buy organic kernels and pop them in an air popper or on your stove.
4. Canned Food, Especially Tomatoes
Canned foods are dangerous because the cans are lined with the chemical BPA, a known hormone disrupter. Canned tomatoes are especially problematic because their acidity causes the BPA to leach into the food. Tomatoes in general are very healthy; it’s the packaging that’s the problem here.
Alternatives – Eat fresh or frozen produce.
5. Hydrogenated Oils
Vegetable oils are not extracted from their source naturally, but instead must undergo a chemical process. Later, even more chemicals are added to achieve the desired look and consistency of the product, resulting in an extremely high level of unhealthy omega-6 fats.
Alternatives – Choose olive, soy, or canola oil instead; these oils are naturally extracted.
6. Farmed Salmon
Though wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, the farmed version is fed an unnatural diet full of chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics. They are also fattier than wild-caught, and therefore store more of the bad stuff in their bodies.
Alternatives – Eat wild-caught salmon or augment your diet with a purified fish oil supplement.
7. Artificial Sweeteners
Most artificial sweeteners are produced by a chemical process, and there isn’t enough data to really deem them safe. Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners cause the toxin DKP to build up in the body and potentially cause brain tumors.
Alternatives – If you must use sweetener, choose plant-based Stevia. Certain recipes can also substitute applesauce for sweetener.
8. Refined White Flour
The refining process strips away all nutritional value from the original wheat. Even worse, the flour is then bleached with chlorine gas to achieve that appealing white color. White flour is a carbohydrate that breaks down into simple sugar, cancer’s preferred fuel.
Alternatives – Choose unbleached, whole wheat flour for your cooking, and read labels carefully to determine how much of the white stuff is in packaged products.
9. Non-organic Fruits & Vegetables
The fruits and veggies themselves are extremely healthy, but the pesticides sprayed on them are anything but. Altrazine, for example, is a weed-killer that has been banned in Europe for causing severe problems in humans, but is still commonly used in the U.S.
Alternatives – Buy organic as much as you can, and carefully wash all produce before eating.
10. Processed Meat
This includes things like bacon, hot dogs, sausage, and deli meats. The processing often adds huge amounts of salt as well as dangerous chemicals, especially nitrate and nitrite. The additives are intended to make the food look nicer and last longer, but carry a steep risk to your health.
Alternatives – Eat mostly fresh, organic meats and look for other products with minimal processing and no preservatives.
11. Potato Chips
Potato chips are offenders for several reasons. One, they are fried in trans fats, and two, they are loaded with salt. Many varieties also have preservatives and artificial coloring.
Alternatives – Pretzels, air popped popcorn, dried apple or banana chips.
12. GMO Foods
There is fierce debate about the safety of GMO foods. Huge food producers like GMO products because they have been modified to better resist pests, be easier to transport, and last longer. However, very little safety testing was done before the foods hit shelves, and we have no idea of their long-term health effects.
Alternatives – Organic produce and meats; packaged foods with a Non-GMO label.
Studies by the National Cancer Institute have shown a link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.
Alternatives – If you are not ready to quit entirely, keep your alcohol consumption in the low risk category – no more than 3 drinks in a sitting for women and 4 drinks in a sitting for men, with no more than 7 drinks total per week for women and 14 total per week for men.
14. Refined Sugars
The worst offender in this category is high fructose corn syrup, and it’s in a ton of processed foods and drinks. For example, you’ll find 15 teaspoons of the stuff in one 20 oz soda! As we know, cancer loves to feed on sugar.
Alternatives – Always scan the ingredients list when buying packaged food; the sugar content will surprise you. Satisfy your sweet tooth with whole fruit rather than candy.
Margarine was supposed to be a healthier alternative to butter, but as it turns out, margarine is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils and is full of trans fats. Recent studies have suggested that trans fats are way more dangerous than the saturated fats found in butter.
Alternatives – Still go easy on the butter, but choose it over margarine. Olive oil flavored with herbs is also a nice topping for bread or veggies.
16. Diet Foods
This one’s a real kick in the teeth – you think you’re making a smart choice by purchasing “diet” foods, but in reality these products are often jammed with extra sugar or artificial sweeteners to replace any fat that’s removed. They may also contain various chemicals designed to get you hooked and coming back for more.
Alternatives – Eat fresh, whole foods rather than packaged diet meals.
17. French Fries
French fries taste so good, but being fried in trans fats and then heavily salted makes them a real cancer risk. Foods heated to such a high temperature also produce acrylamide, a known carcinogen found in cigarette smoke.
Alternatives – Check out some recipes for baked fries; using flavorful spices and olive oil produces a very tasty and much healthier side dish.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by information on the good and the bad in food choices.
But luckily it can all be boiled down into some simple guidelines. Simply shifting your mealtime balance towards whole foods (away from packaged products) and skipping the sodas will make a huge difference in cancer risk.