There is increasing evidence that shows diet plays a role in the incidence of certain cancers. Several carcinogens found in dietary factors such as processed meats, hot drinks, sugary foods, dairy products, margarine, and high glycemic index foods can increase the risk of developing cancer. In this article, we will look into the dietary factors and recommendations for nutrient-rich food that can support cancer prevention.
Carcinogens Bolstering Cancer Risk
Cancer is an umbrella term for a group of diseases where cells in the body divide and grow in an unregulated manner. Carcinogens, which have the potential to cause DNA damage and increase the risk of cancer, are divided into three main categories: direct-acting, procarcinogen, and genotoxic compounds that cause DNA changes during replication.
Processed meats, including hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, and deli meats, can contain nitrites and nitrates, which have been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. A study has found that consuming processed meats can increase colorectal cancer risk by 20%.
Aromatic amines and smoking are also commonly linked to bladder cancer. These chemicals are produced when cooked at high temperatures, creating heterocyclic amines and advanced glycation end products, which can cause DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Additionally, alcoholic beverages and sugary food items with a high glycemic index are noted to increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including stomach, esophagus, liver, and breast cancer in both men and women, with those drinking before 30 having an even higher risk.
Dietary Change for Cancer Prevention
Though carcinogens found in certain food items can lead to cancer, certain dietary changes can help protect against or lessen its risk. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting alcoholic beverages to not more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Reducing red meat and processed meat intake to less than one serving per week can also help. Furthermore, replacing processed foods with plant-based options and restricting sugary food items can also help reduce cancer risk. It is advisable to use gentler cooking methods, such as steaming and boiling at lower temperatures, and to drink hot beverages in moderation (lower than 60°C) to reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.
Overall, increasing a plant-based diet and limiting the intake of processed and sugary foods with high glycemic index can help to protect against cancer.
This also includes eating fruits and vegetables, and legumes.
The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends incorporating a wide variety of colored non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and fruits like apples, berries, bananas, and citrus fruits.
Omega-3 fatty acids are recommended because they reduce inflammation, as a hallmark of many cancers. Walnuts, almonds, canola, and flaxseed oil are beneficial sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating foods like eggs, salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish can also provide good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Cancer is a life-threatening condition caused mainly by mutations in one or more genes–often due to lifestyle, environmental factors, or dietary factors. While it is difficult to point to a single food item that causes cancer, there are several dietary carcinogens that can increase the risk of developing cancer. This includes processed meats, hot drinks, sugary foods, dairy products, margarine, and high glycemic index foods. Certain dietary changes, such as limiting processed and red meat, sugary foods, and alcoholic beverages, can reduce the risk of cancer. Increasing a plant-based diet, fiber-rich meals, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids can benefit health and lessen cancer risk.