A poor diet isn't the only thing that increases your risk for chronic diseases but eliminating or minimizing certain foods is one way to help steer clear of cancer. Replace cancer-causing foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
The National Cancer Institute says acrylamide, a chemical used in paper, dye, and plastic production -- and wastewater and sewage treatment -- is present in higher amounts in foods heated to temperatures above 250 degrees Fahrenheit, such as potato chips. While studies examining effects of acrylamide on cancer in humans show mixed results, the National Cancer Institute says animal studies show acrylamide increases cancer risks in rodents. Likewise, a 2015 review published in the International Journal of Cancer found acrylamide may slightly increase the risk for kidney, endometrial, and ovarian cancer in people. While there aren't official guidelines determining how many potato chips you can safely eat in a day, limit or avoid them as much as possible.
Because French fries are heated to high temperatures, they contain higher levels of acrylamide, says the National Cancer Institute. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests limiting French fries in your diet and if you do eat them, avoid fries that are overcooked, heavily crispy, or brown in color. While more research is needed to confirm the link between acrylamide and cancer in humans, the FDA suggests limiting this chemical in your diet because it appears to cause cancer in animal studies. There isn't an official recommendation for the amount of French fries you can safely eat in a day, but fewer is better.
As with other starchy foods cooked at very high temperatures, burned toast is no exception when it comes to higher acrylamide content. The Cancer Treatment Centers for America recommend toasting bread to a light brown color instead of dark brown and steering clear of very brown or black areas of toast as a way to reduce dietary acrylamide. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 - 2020 suggest 6 ounces of grains (equivalent to six slices of toast or other grains) daily when eating 2,000 calories per day. Just be sure to avoid the burned parts.
Red and Processed Meats
According to the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies processed meat as cancer-causing, and red meat as "probable" for boosting cancer risks. The American Cancer Society goes on to say that after reviewing more than 800 studies, researchers determined eating 50 grams of processed meat daily boosts the risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent, and red meat increases risks for prostate, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding processed meat altogether and limiting red meat to up to 18 ounces per week.
Very Well-Cooked Meats
Chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) can form in meats (beef, fish, poultry, and pork) cooked in high temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit, says the National Cancer Institute. Frying, smoking, and grilling over open flames can produce such chemicals. The National Cancer Institute says chemicals produced in meat during high-heat cooking may increase the risk of colon, breast, liver, lung, skin and prostate cancers as it has in animal studies. However, more human trials are needed in this realm. In the meantime, it's probably best to limit or omit consumption of very well-cooked meats as much as possible and avoid blackened meats.
Added Sugars and Refined Grains
While including refined grains and added sugar in your diet doesn't mean you'll get cancer, eating too many of these foods boosts your risk for obesity and being obese increases your risk for prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers, says the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. So limit sugary drinks, sweets, and refined grains (like white bread and white rice) as much as possible. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 - 2020 suggest limiting added sugar to less than 10 percent of your total calorie intake (less than 50 grams daily for a 2,000-calorie diet).
You probably already know drinking alcohol in excess can be problematic for your health. However, a recent review published in 2017 in the journal Addiction found strong evidence alcohol causes cancer, and cancers caused by alcohol make up almost 6 percent of cancer deaths worldwide. National Institutes of Health says alcohol is associated with gullet, throat, colon, liver, rectum, and breast cancers, and there's no safe level for alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say if you currently don't drink alcohol, don't begin doing so for any reason and if you do, limit drinks to one per day for women and two daily for men.
Lowering your cancer risks means limiting or avoiding cancer-causing foods and choosing a healthy lifestyle. Reduce your chance of getting cancer by eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco products, practicing safe sex, following recommended immunization schedules, and protecting yourself from the sun, says Mayo Clinic.