Foods Cancer Doctors Never (Or Rarely) Eat
Doctors often talk to patients about dietary changes they can make to reduce their risk of developing cancer. Now, some doctors are sharing the types of foods they stay away from to reduce their cancer risk.
Besides food, several other lifestyle factors play a role in causing cancer, such as cigarette smoking, overexposure to the sun, and drinking alcohol. However, some cancer risk factors, like carcinogens, are unavoidable.
Carcinogens are substances in the air, products, and even in some foods. Carcinogens are hard to steer clear of because they are everywhere.
Dr. Otis Brawley, the associate director of community outreach and engagement at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told HuffPost, “You cannot remove carcinogens from your entire life.” Because of this, Dr. Brawley says, “you need to manage your exposure to cancer-causing agents or carcinogens.”
One way to manage exposure to carcinogens and reduce the risk of cancer is through food. Among the unhealthy foods medical professionals recommend avoiding include:
1. Processed meats
While some people enjoy the smell of sausage and bacon at breakfast, doctors suggest resisting the urge to eat these processed meats regularly, mainly because of the ingredients added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) placed processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats, into the Group 1 category of carcinogens, the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos. WHO defines processed meat as foods that have been “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.”
Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, noted that processed meats are not only linked to cancer but other health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
“It is believed that the preservatives (such [as] nitrates or nitrites) can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals,” Dr. Reidy-Lagunes told HuffPost.
Dr. Reidy-Lagunes added that the risk of smoking and developing cancer is much higher than that of eating processed foods and developing cancer. Nonetheless, she said that removing processed meats from your diet or eating these foods occasionally makes for a healthier diet. Dr. Reidy-Lagunes recommends lean meats, like chicken and fish, as better food options.
Dr. Chris Scuderi, a family physician in Jacksonville, Florida, told HuffPost that as a cancer survivor, he pays close attention to his diet and avoids “processed and packaged foods as much as possible.”
2. Charred Foods
Self-proclaimed “grill masters” are experts in charring burgers, ribs, chicken, fish, and other foods. But putting food on the grill to the point that it chars can increase your cancer risk, according to Dr. Brawley.
Cooking food on the grill does not mean that you will automatically develop cancer, but cooking over an open flame can lead to the development of carcinogens in meat, according to Dr. Mary Beth Terry, a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center.
Cooking over an open flame exposes you to two main carcinogens: heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies have found that HCAs and PAHs cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.
The bottom line is when it comes to grilling, Dr. Terry said: “Don’t grill every meal. And when you do cook on the grill, eat less charred food and meat. You reduce risk by not doing something all the time.”
3. Red Meat
Red meat, such as beef, pork, and veal, contains healthy nutrients like protein and vitamin B12. However, medical professionals warn against overeating red meat because of its link to different types of cancer. For example, there have been studies linking red meat to colorectal cancer. In addition, the MD Anderson Cancer Center reports that red meat heightens the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Because of the cancer risk, Dr. Scuderi said he does not eat red meat. “I haven’t had meat in 12 years,” he told HuffPost.
4. Processed Foods
At first glance, convenient and tasty foods, such as cereals and baked goods, appear to be safe to eat. However, these foods are ultra-processed and loaded with sugar. Health experts say that sugar is not directly linked to cancer, but consuming too much sugar can lead to developing leading risk factors for cancer.
“There’s a diabetes and obesity link to cancer,” said Dr. Brawley, the co-author of a 2018 study that found 7.8 percent of cancers are due to excess body weight.
5. White Bread
According to health experts, low-quality carbohydrates, highly processed flour, and added sugar make white bread an unhealthy food.
“The thing that I avoid as much as possible, and I don’t avoid it 100%, [is] white bread,” Dr. Brawley said.
According to Dr. Brawley, white bread has no nutritional benefit and, like cereal and sugary foods, is linked to cancer risk factors, such as diabetes and obesity.
6. Sodas and Other Sugary Drinks
While colas and other sodas can quickly quench your thirst, consuming sugary drinks regularly can contribute significantly to weight gain, primarily because of the high amount of sugar and calories in those beverages.
Several studies show that frequent soft drink consumption increases the risk of medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. For example, one eight-year study found that participants with one or more soft drinks a day were at twice the risk of developing diabetes as those who consumed less than one soft drink per month.
Consuming excess amounts of sugar and other types of food can contribute not only to developing cancer but also to cardiovascular conditions and other serious health problems, according to Dr. Xavier Llor, the medical director of the colorectal cancer prevention program at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Health.
“Really, it’s kind of like most of this stuff is just not good for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Llor told HuffPost.