Foods to Avoid

A lot of the foods described in this section are already commonly known to be harmful to your overall health. However, more and more studies are emerging to show direct health- and cancer-related consequences of poor food choices.

High Amounts or Red Meat

The concern with red meats stem from different mutagens (a chemical agent that causes changes in DNA) and carcinogens (chemical agents that may cause cancer) that are produced when cooking meat at high temperatures or are part of the digestion process of the fat content of meats. Studies have suggested that diets with a high amount of red meat may be associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, breast, prostate, renal gland, and ovaries. Examples of red meats include: beef, pork, lamb, and goat.

Try reducing your intake of red meats by using the meat as a flavour enhancer or as a smaller side dish rather than the main part of your meal. You can also try to eat red meat less often by having it every other meal and gradually increase this to having red meat just once a week. Using alternative techniques to cook your meats such as baking, broiling, braising, steaming, poaching, or stewing can help in reducing the production of some of the concerning mutagens and carcinogens.

Remember, protein is an important part of a well-balanced healthy diet. You can choose alternatives such as poultry, fish, and beans as your protein source.

References:

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Ca Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30–67

High Amounts of Processed Meat

The concern with processed meats comes from the high amounts of nitrates and nitrites that are used to cure or preserve the product. These chemicals help prevent bacteria from growing and also contribute to the pink colour in processed meats. Studies have suggested that a diet with a high content of processed meats may be associated with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, breast, prostate, renal gland, and ovaries. Examples of processed meats with high amounts of nitrates include hot dogs, sausages, ham, bacon, and other deli meats or cold cuts.

References:

EatRight Ontario. The truth about nitrates
Accessed May 22, 2014

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Ca Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30–67

High Alcohol Consumption

The exact process in which alcohol affects cancer risk is not completely understood. Depending on the type of cancer, it has been theorized that alcohol can damage body tissues, enhance the effects of other harmful chemicals, lower levels of nutrients, affect hormone balance, and increase body weight, which can lead to obesity. Studies have established that high alcohol consumption is a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colorectum, and breast and may possibly be associated with cancer of the pancreas. This risk is further increased if you also smoke tobacco. Try to limit your alcohol intake to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women (one drink = 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor).

References:

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Ca Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30–67

National Cancer Institute. Alcohol and Cancer Risk
Accessed May 22, 2014

American Cancer Society. Alcohol Use and Cancer
Accessed May 22, 2014

High Sugar

High amounts of sugar intake results in increased caloric intake with limited nutritional benefit, which leads to higher chances of obesity. While high amounts of sugar may not necessarily directly cause an increased risk of cancer, obesity has been clearly associated with many types of cancers. Try limiting or eliminating your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (eg, soft drinks and fruit-flavoured drinks), pastries, and candies. When reading nutritional labels on packaged foods, be mindful of added sugar, glucose, honey, corn syrup, fructose, maltose, or dextrose.

References:

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Ca Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30–67

Canadian Cancer Society. Sugar
Accessed May 22, 2014

High Fat

While high fat intake has not been directly linked to increased cancer risk, a high fat diet does lead to obesity, which has been clearly associated with many types of cancers. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats from animal products such as meats, butters, and cheeses. Also limit trans fats that are found in processed food cooked in hydrogenated fats. These types of foods include crackers, potato chips, baked goods, and deep-fried fast foods.

References:

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Ca Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30–67

Canadian Cancer Society. Fat
Accessed May 22, 2014

Some Practical Advice

Ideally, it would be best to completely eliminate these foods from your diet but for many people, this tends to feel unrealistic. You can slowly start to make healthful changes to your lifestyle by:

  • Eating the foods listed above in moderation
  • Gradually replacing the foods above with healthier alternatives
  • Eating smaller portions

These small steps will eventually become a routine part of your healthier lifestyle.