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7 eating, drinking habits that increase your cancer risk as new study sheds more insight

A new study found links between certain foods and the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

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Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains may help you mitigate your risk of cancer. (Getty)

While you can enjoy most foods in moderation, consuming certain ones can increase your risk of developing cancer.

A new study published in Nutrients examined the risk of colorectal cancer related to food, and pointed out some food associated with a higher risk.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, refers to a cancerous tumour of the colon or rectum that can destroy nearby tissue and spread to the rest of the body, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. It can have fatal consequences.

The new study, published in mid-November by researchers from Chinese and UK universities, looked at data from more than 118,000 participants who they followed on average for nearly 13 years. They factored in 139 foods and nutrients' intake.

Researchers found a decreased risk for CRC in those who consumed higher amounts of:

  • dietary fiber

  • magnesium

  • phosphorus

  • manganese

However, drinking alcohol and higher intakes of white bread were associated with higher risk.

The study also found that among women, "no dietary factor was significantly associated with CRC risk."


It's been known following a healthy lifestyle, including eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods, can help decrease your cancer risk. That could also mean avoiding or reducing eating some less-nutritious foods.

Here are some of the top offenders you can avoid.

Processed meats

Processed meats were classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, as a class 1 carcinogen in 2015, which means they're known to cause cancer. Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Examples of processed meat include bacon, ham, hot dogs, salami and sausages.

The methods of preserving these meats include nitrates, which are chemicals that are known to cause bowel and stomach cancer. To reduce your cancer risk, it's best to avoid processed meats as much as possible or eliminate them entirely.

Red meat

Red meat is also associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Although red meat can be a good source of iron, protein and other micronutrients, most people in the Western world eat far too much red meat, with Canada having one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world. Consuming red and processed meat has been linked to 15 different types of cancer, including:

  • Colorectal

  • Esophagus

  • Kidney

  • Liver

  • Stomach

To decrease your risk, you shouldn't eat more than one serving of red meat per week. If you do eat red meat, you may be able to mitigate your risk of developing cancer by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A study of more than 50,000 people in Alberta found that those who consumed red meat along with a high intake of fruits and vegetables had less risk of developing several cancers.

Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages are preserved using nitrates, which are known to cause bowel and stomach cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)
Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages are preserved using nitrates, which are known to cause bowel and stomach cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)

Sugary drinks

Although sugar itself doesn't cause cancer, drinking sugary drinks — including pop and 100 per cent fruit juice — has been associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Sugar consumption is linked to obesity, which is a risk factor in 13 types of cancer. Sugary drinks are sweetened with sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners that have calories. Some examples include:

  • Pop

  • Energy drinks

  • Sports drinks

  • Fruit drinks

These beverages don't have any nutritional value and don't fill you up. Most people don't consume fewer calories in the rest of their diet when they drink sugary drinks, leading to weight gain.

Highly processed foods

Eating highly processed foods has been associated with an increased risk of overall cancer and breast cancer. Highly processed foods contain added salt, sugar and saturated fat, and include examples such as:

  • Chips and pretzels

  • Sugary drinks

  • Sauces, including dressings and gravies

  • Ice cream

  • Muffins, cakes and cookies

  • French fries, burgers and other fast food

  • Frozen pizza and pasta

Foods that are preserved by drying, canning or freezing can be part of a healthy diet. If you eat highly processed foods, check the ingredients to find those that have little or no added sodium, sugar or saturated fat.

Eating highly processed foods like burgers, and drinking sugary drinks like pop, can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)
Eating highly processed foods like burgers, and drinking sugary drinks like pop, can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)

Refined carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be an important part of a healthy diet. However, refined carbohydrates have been stripped of their fibre and nutritional content, and can be easily digested, causing your blood sugar to spike. Fibre plays an important role in preventing some types of cancer. Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates is associated with a significantly increased risk of developing prostate and breast cancer. Refined carbohydrates include foods such as:

  • Tortillas

  • White bread

  • Bagels

  • Waffles and pancakes

  • Pastries

  • White rice

You can cut down on your consumption of refined carbs by substituting complex carbs instead. Choose brown rice instead of white rice, baked goods made with whole grains and eat oatmeal instead of refined breakfast cereals.

Alcohol

You may have heard that alcohol, particularly red wine, is good for your health. While it's true that consuming red wine in moderation is associated with fewer heart attacks, all types of alcohol are associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk is of developing cancer. Drinking alcohol is positively associated with developing six types of cancer, including:

  • Mouth and throat cancer

  • Esophagus cancer

  • Colon and rectal cancer

  • Liver cancer

  • Breast cancer

  • Voice box cancer

Three-quarters of Canadians report drinking alcohol in the past year, making it the most commonly used substance in Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society funded a study that found that limiting alcohol intake could prevent 44,300 cases of cancer by 2042.

While drinking red wine in moderation is associated with having fewer heart attacks, all types of alcohol are related to an increased risk of cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)
While drinking red wine in moderation is associated with having fewer heart attacks, all types of alcohol are related to an increased risk of cancer. (Photo via Getty Images)

Charred meat

Everyone loves a barbecue, but grilling your meat may increase your cancer risk, since charring your food carbonizes the proteins and sugars in it. Charring meat, fish and poultry causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form, which are substances that may cause cancer. Here are some ways you can enjoy grilled food and lower your risk of cancer:

  • Marinate meat for 30 minutes before cooking

  • Precook your meat away from the grill to reduce exposure time

  • Cook at lower temperatures using indirect heat

  • Cut off charred areas before you eat

  • Consider grilling fruits and vegetables, which don't form HCAs even when they're charred

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