Have you heard that saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” Well, that doesn’t count when it comes to carcinogens.
Carcinogens are those substances that play a direct role in humans and other animals developing cancer: Asbestos, tobacco, plutonium, to name a few. However, many common, innocuous-seeming food items have also been linked to a wide range of cancers—like processed meats, for example. Back in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed their most recent study findings and officially moved processed meats, such as hot dogs and bacon, to the “carcinogenic to humans” category. The study also shed light on a causal association between red meat and colorectal cancer.
But jerky and burgers aren’t the only foods you need to watch out for. The Editors of Eat This, Not That! took a closer look at additional supermarket items you should avoid at all costs. While you’re at it, be sure to avoid the 75 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.
The lining of almost all canned foods are made with a chemical called bisphenol-A, or BPA. Even minuscule exposures to BPA increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty, metabolic disorders and type-2 diabetes, according to the Breast Cancer Fund. But tomatoes are exceptionally dangerous because of their high acidity, which causes BPA to leach from the lining of the can into the fruit. You’re better off using fresh tomatoes when you cook a meal or, if you prepare them ahead of time, storing them in glass jars.
Hydrogenated oils are used to preserve processed foods, to give them an appealing look for a long as possible. The ugly truth: Those oils can influence cell membranes’ structure and flexibility, which can lead to cancer. Vegetable oils also contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause heart disease and increase the risk of various malignancies, particularly skin cancer. The body needs some omega-6s, but they should be balanced with omega-3s; wild salmon, mackerel and grass-fed meats are good sources. When it comes to oil, your best bet is to use heart-healthy olive oil, which is naturally, not chemically, extracted.
Although calcium is great for bone strength, experts are discovering a link between high calcium intake and the development of prostate cancer. This is because calcium-rich dairy products can lower your body’s count of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. This hormone is known to actively protect men against prostate cancerous cells, so, by lowering your body's natural count, you’re raising the chances of the cancer’s development. In a study conducted by the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, an evident link between high consumption of dairy and calcium products and the development prostate cancer was discovered. Results showed that the men with the highest consumption rates of dairy were more likely to develop prostate cancer than those who consumed less.
Processed & Red Meats
Sausages, bacon, hot dogs, bologna, pimento loaf, prosciutto—these processed meats contain various chemicals and preservatives, including sodium nitrates, which make them look appealing and fresh but can become carcinogenic when exposed to high heat or conditions of high acidity. Smoked meats are particularly dangerous, as the meat picks up tar from the smoking process. (You might remember tar as the deadly ingredient contained in cigarettes). In a study published in the Journal of BMC Medicine, researchers wrote that the excessive salts and chemicals used to make processed meats are dangerous to health. Study participants who ate 160 grams or more of processed meats increased their risk of early death as much as 44 percent within 12 years, as opposed to those who ate 20 grams or less.
And when it comes to conventionally prepared red meat, for every 100 gram portion of the stuff eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17%, according to the WHO researchers. To enjoy meat safely, go for grass-fed, organic and hormone-free varieties and consume less than 100 grams daily.
Unnerving news from the Environmental Working Group: Eighty-six breads, baked goods and starchy supermarket products have been identified as being laced with potassium bromate. The chemical, which is sometimes referred to as brominated flour, speeds up the manufacturing process and helps whiten and add bulk to bread and grain-based products. But that comes at a serious cost to the consumer: The additive has been linked to nervous-system disorders and has been identified as a potential human carcinogen by a number of health organizations. For this reason, the European Union, U.K., Canada, and Brazil don’t allow potassium bromate to be used. In the States, the FDA has urged manufacturers to stop using it, but they have yet to make that mandatory. Take a look at the the ingredients list of the next bread you buy. If it includes brominated flour, consider choosing something else.
Tumors use sugars to feed themselves and increase in size. This unsettling fact was discovered in 1931 by Otto Warburg, a Nobel laureate in medicine. Warburg figured out that in order to proliferate, cancer cells thrive on fructose-rich sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is metabolized by cancer cells more quickly and easily than other sweeteners; check for it on nutrition labels and avoid it.
After tobacco use, alcohol abuse is the leading cause of cancer. Although it’s true that a moderate or low amount of alcohol can actually reduce heart-disease risk, overindulgence can result in heart failure and stroke. And cancer. In a meta-study, experts working for the World Health Organization concluded that excessive alcohol use is the main cause of mouth, esophagus, liver, colon, mouth, rectum and female breast cancers. Stick with one glass of wine per day for women, two for men. Go with one of these best wines for weight loss.
Saturated fats may have been cleared of their connection with heart disease, but that doesn't mean they have been absolved of all of their sins. A 2015 meta-analysis of 52 studies published in the journal Medicine reported that postmenopausal women with the highest saturated fat intake increased their risk of breast cancer by over 30 percent compared to those who ate the least. As you get older, try to decrease your consumption of foods high in saturated fats, such as highly-processed snacks made with vegetable oils, fatty meats, processed cheeses, and butter-based desserts.