Cancer Causing Foods Linked to 3 Culprits

Cancer causing foods ignite rethinking of best-loved foods.

Foods not only nourish the body, they nourish the soul. For instance, the thought of barbecuing meats conjures visions of good times with family and friends; and sugary deserts signify celebration and appreciation.

Combine these strong associations with fast food advertising and its no wonder we love so many of the foods that science now proves are cancer causing foods.

Cancer and Its Link to Cancer Causing Foods

There are more than 100 different types of cancer, with most named for the organ or type of cell in which they start.

Cancer occurs when DNA (genetic material) of a cell is damaged, producing abnormal cells or mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. Cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them.

These cells interfere with natural healing. They can invade other tissues and may form a mass of tissue called a tumor. They can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the blood or lymph systems.

Tobacco is the number one cause of cancer, but dietary factors including obesity contribute significantly, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).

3 Cancer Causing Culprits

Food additives and the way food is processed and prepared play key roles in making a food carcinogenic (cancer causing). Here are examples of key culprits:

  1. Food Additives

    • Refined Sugar, added to most processed food and liberally used in the western diet, fuels cancer growth and suppresses the immune system.

      Because cancer cells are "obligate glucose metabolizers" which means they must feed on sugar, foods with a high sugar (glycemic) load increase the risk of cancer. For instance, soft drinks, which contain about ¼ cup of sugar, are linked to pancreatic cancer.

      Labels list refined sugars as fructose, cane sugar, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup (a corn-based sweetener).

    • PCBs (Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls) can cause cancer as well as harm the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.

      Banned in 1976, PCBs continue in the environment where they accumulate in food crops and small organism like fish.

      PCBs are particularly high in farmed fish due to PCBs in the food fed them. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found farmed salmon had 16 times the amount of PCBs as wild salmon.

  2. Food Processing

    • Trans Fats also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. Food companies use them in processed foods to extend shelf life. Restaurants use them in deep fried foods as the oils can be used many times over.

      Trans fats may unbalance the hormonal systems that regulate healing, harm cells, and encourage the development of cancer.

    • Alcohol, created through fermentation of fruits, grains, and vegetables has been linked to several types of cancer including mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, colon, and rectal.
  3. Food Preparation

    Even healthy foods can become cancer causing foods when cooked at high temperatures.

    Studies found that meats cooked above 300 degrees F. (as in grilling or pan-frying) or cooked for a long time increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer, reports the National Cancer Institute.

    Cooking at High Temperatures releases these harmful chemicals:

    • Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) form when amino acids, sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscles) react at high temperatures.
    • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can form during smoking of meats too. They are also found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.
    • Acrylamide, a nervous system toxin known to cause cancer in animals, has been found in high levels in a range of cooked and heat-processed foods, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).

      We don’t know exactly at what temperature acrylamide is formed in food. However acrylamide has so far not been found in food prepared at temperature below 120 degrees Celsius, including boiled foods,” say WHO experts.

6 Top Cancer Causing Foods

The culprits above make these foods top cancer causing foods.

  1. Alcohol: Limit intake to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women, reports the American Cancer Society. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
  2. Grilled and Pan Fried Meats: You can reduce the formation of harmful chemicals by:

    • Avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface
    • Pre-cooking meat in a microwave oven to reduce the high heat time needed to finish cooking
    • Turning meat over frequently on a high heat source
    • Removing charred portions of meat
    • Refraining from using gravy made from meat dripping

  3. Donuts and Potato Chips: Deep fried foods that have a high glycemic load carry a double whammy. Replace them with baked, whole grain, or protein snacks.
  4. Soft Drinks: Replace with water or sparkling water mixed with a little 100% fruit juice (no added sugar).
  5. Margarine: Replace with olive oil.
  6. Farmed Fish: limit your intake to no more that once a month and eat wild caught fish when possible (canned is fine).

Begin now to reduce or replace these foods with foods that help protect against cancer (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cold-water fish).

Cancer Causing Foods Key Points

It can be hard to stop eating cancer causing foods, especially if you’ve learned to love them. Yet, you can decrease your risk by watching out for these 3 culprits and decreasing how often you eat these 6 top cancer causing foods.

Sources and Resources

American Cancer society, “Alcohol Use and Cancer,” May, 2010,

Environmental Protection Agency, “Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs),” September, 2011,

Houlihan, J., Environmental Working Group, “Results from Tests of Store-Bought Farmed Salmon Show Seven of 10 Fish Were So Contaminated With PCBs That They Raise Cancer Risk,” July, 2003,

Mueller, Noel, et. al., “Soft Drink and Juice Consumption and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, February, 2010,

National Cancer Institute, Fact Sheet, “Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk” at

National Cancer Institute, “What is Cancer?” October, 2010,

UCLA Newsroom, “Pancreatic Cancers Use Fructose, Common in Western Diet, to Fuel Growth, Study Finds,” August, 2010,

World Health Organization, Food Safety, “Frequently Asked Questions – Acryamide in Food,” October, 2011,, “Beating Cancer with Nutrition” at

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