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These 12 Cancers Are Linked to a Bad Diet, Doctor Says

A leading physician brings greater clarity to the subject of cancer and your diet.

A recent study found that alcohol consumption was associated with 740,000 new cancer diagnoses in 2020. That data seemed to highlight the notion that your everyday lifestyle choices truly can impact your long-term health… so what about the foods you're eating—are they increasing your cancer risk? A nationally recognized doctor spoke with us to bring greater clarity to the subject of cancer and your diet.

Howard Grossman, MD, is a member of the Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board, a board-certified internist, and winner of the amfAR Award of Courage, known for his work with vulnerable patient populations. Here, Grossman shares some current wisdom around the topic of nutrition and cancer, pinpointing particular foods and the types of cancer they've been linked to.

Continue reading for Dr. Grossman's insights, and learn more from him in The Worst Beer Mistake You Can Make, Experts Say.

"Most of the problem is not the food, but the additives."

table covered in bowls of popcorn, chips, candy, and other junk foods
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Grossman starts out with one important point: "Diets and cancer are a controversial subject. Most of the problem is not the food, but the additives." To this, he adds, "It is always safe to say that a balanced diet that limits food additives . . . will be the most healthy."

To learn a list of particular foods that have been associated with cancer, keep reading.

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Processed meats

Processed meats sausage hot dog red meat deli meat
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Grossman mentions processed meats as a category that's been linked with cancer (think hot dogs and sausages, bacon, deli slices, and anything that's not a fresh cut).

"The problem with processed meats and things like bacon and smoked foods are the nitrites," he explains. "High nitrite and nitrate levels, as found in processed meats, may increase the risk of gliomas (brain cancer) as well as thyroid, colorectal, and gastric cancers. The compounds in and of themselves are not carcinogenic [Editor's note: "carcinogenic" may be defined as something that's potentially cancer-causing], but in the body they combine with other molecules and can form carcinogenic substances—at least they are carcinogenic in some animal studies."

RELATED: One Major Side Effect of Eating Ultra-Processed Foods, Says New Study

Red meat

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"Red meat has been linked to colorectal, prostate and pancreatic cancer," Grossman says, but mentions the association is not entirely definitive. "Still a good idea to limit red meat intake for this and other health reasons," he suggests.

RELATED: What Happens to Your Body When You Cut Red Meat From Your Diet

Alcohol

Group Of Middle Aged Friends Celebrating In Bar Together
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"High alcohol consumption has been linked to oral, esophageal, stomach, breast, liver and colon cancer," Grossman says. "These are associations with excessive intake."

RELATED: The Worst Wine Mistake You Can Make, Dietitian Says

Obesity is another factor…

"One thing to mention is that obesity can be a risk factor for many cancers," Grossman says. "Therefore, limiting sugary drinks and other sugary foods that add to weight can be a good tip." (Don't miss The #1 Cause of Obesity, According to Science.)

A key conclusion:

healthy foods
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Grossman points out that while the foods listed have been demonstrated to have a link with cancer, "there are no absolutely definitive studies in humans." He says it's important to remember: "There is a lot we do not know about the links between food and cancer."

As the research on this topic continues, Dr. Grossman's main takeaway to help you prevent cancer is to follow a diet that "limits processed foods, limits red meat and sugary foods and is moderate in alcohol intake."

He concludes: "I always tell people to stick with 'whole' foods, [like] fruits and vegetables, lean meats and (unsalted) fish, and stop eating things that come out of a box."

For more on food and your health, keep reading:

Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at <em>Eat This, Not That!</em>, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more
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