8 Foods Cancer Docs Try to Never Eat

Every day there's some new warning about this food or that food maybe causing cancer—and soon enough that advice turns out to be bunk. We talked to oncologists to learn which foods may truly put us at risk.

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Processed meats

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Processed meats are up there with smoking and asbestos when it comes to cancer risk, according to the World Health Organization. On their no-no list are sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and ham, due to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eating just 50 grams of processed meat each day (that's around two slices of ham) can increase the risk of colon cancer by 18 percent, according to the report. The problem comes not just from the meat itself but from the main methods of processing it, which include smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives. When cooking certain meats, sodium nitrites combine with natural amines in the meat to form cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds. "I avoid smoked foods due to nitrates," says Ioana Bonta, MD, a medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Georgia. In spite of similar preparation, smoked fish is not as bad as smoked meats, according to Cary Presant, MD, an internist, hematologist, and an oncologist in Los Angeles and an assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope Cancer Center in West Covina, California.

Microwave popcorn

"Microwave popcorn is loaded with artificial butter, and the fumes from it contain the toxic compound diacytel that is associated with lung cancers," says professor Eitan Yefenof, PhD, chairman of the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. Also known as a "butter bomb," diacytel gives popcorn that distinctive buttery flavor and aroma. There's more: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in microwave popcorn bag linings as "likely" carcinogenic. Need a popcorn fix? Here's how to make your own amazing popcorn in the microwave.

Farmed salmon

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Sure, it's cheaper than the wild-caught stuff, but farmed salmon has higher levels of potentially cancer-causing contaminants. On average, farmed salmon has 16 times the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in wild salmon, four times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the PCBs found in other seafood, the Environmental Working Group reports. Instead, "choose wild-caught salmon and bake it with heart-healthy olive oil, " suggests Steven G. Eisenberg, DO, an oncologist at the California Cancer Associates for Research and Excellence in San Diego. Salmon is rich in healthy fats known as omega-3 fatty acids, and when consumed in place of a high-fat protein source, it can help control weight. "Obesity is a major risk factor for many cancers." Other cancer-fighting foods can also help.

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Charred meats

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Crazy-high temperatures used in the grilling process produce cancer-causing heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic. Dr. Eisenberg won't eat any red meat... ever, focusing instead on plant-based proteins and fish. The World Health Organization confirms that unprocessed red meat may also cause cancer. Dr. Bonta eats small amounts of red meat but cooks it carefully. "I don't believe in grilling red meat because of the heme-iron and charcoal also have cancer causing agents," she says. Follow these guidelines for healthier grilling.

Artificial sweeteners

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Dr. Bonta won't even keep artificial sweeteners in the house due to potential cancer risk. Dr. Eisenberg takes a more cautious approach to the use of sugar substitutes; choosing plant-based, no-cal Stevia instead of the sweeteners typically found in the blue, pink, and yellow packets. "Research into the potentially toxic effects of other artificial sweeteners is under way, so why not use something natural until we have sound research?" he asks. "We don't know what we will find out in the next 10 years." Here's what happens to your body when you go cold turkey on fake sugars.

Excessive amounts of alcohol

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Dr. Eisenberg is a teetotaler. In fact, he hasn't had so much as a sip of alcohol since his college days. "The research linking alcohol to cancer risk is strong," he says. Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast, and colon cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. "Numerous studies have examined the association between alcohol consumption and the risk of other cancers, including cancers of the pancreas, ovary, prostate, stomach, uterus, and bladder," Dr. Eisenberg adds, noting that they've found either no association or that the evidence is inconsistent. If you're not ready to go completely dry, cutting back can be a good small step. These tips can make limiting alcohol easier.

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Trans fats

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Trans fats are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats, in a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Trans fats can be found in a laundry list of foods including vegetable shortening, margarine, crackers, cereals, candies, baked goods, cookies, granola bars, chips, snack foods, salad dressings, fats, fried foods, and many other foods. "Just say no. No. No. No. No," Dr. Eisenberg says. "I don't eat any trans fats ever." These fats are closely linked to soaring obesity rates, he says. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now banned partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the major source of artificial trans fats in the food supply. Food manufacturers were given three years to remove PHOs from their products, as of January 2015. Make sure to avoid these surprising foods high in trans fats.

Bagels

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Yes, bagels are delicious, but they're also one of those white foods that sends your blood sugar soaring. Consuming foods with a high glycemic index (those they rapidly elevate blood sugar levels), was found to potentially increase risk of developing lung cancer in non-Hispanic whites, according to a study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. High GI foods include white bread and bagels, corn flakes, and puffed rice. Instead, choose lower GI foods such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, and steel-cut oatmeal. These tasty low-glycemic snacks won't spike your blood sugar.


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