‘I'm an Oncologist and This Is the One Type of Food I Never, Ever Eat’

Woman shopping for food to prevent cancer

While certainly no one can control their health completely, it’s empowering to think about how much is in our control. The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund estimate that between 30 and 40 percent of all cancers are preventable by having healthy diet and lifestyle habits in place.

If you want to eat with cancer prevention in mind, oncologists have some tips—including one food you should eat rarely, if ever.

Related: 'I'm an Oncologist and This Is the Dinner I Swear By for Cancer Prevention'

How To Eat With Cancer Prevention in Mind

Dr. Daniel Landau, MD, an oncologist and hematologist with the Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com, says that one eating plan that’s beneficial to follow if you want to lower your risk of cancer is the Mediterranean diet. “This diet places an emphasis on fruits and vegetables while limiting the amount of red meat consumed. While there are likely a number of reasons this type of diet would be beneficial, one notable reason is that the number of vitamins and minerals in this diet is beyond what anyone could obtain from processed foods and red meats,” he explains.

One primary reason why Dr. Landau says following the Mediterranean diet can help lower the risk of cancer is because the foods it champions are anti-inflammatory. “It is known that inflammation, such as those provided by sugars and fats, promotes cancerous cell growth,” he explains.

Dr. Landau says that one hypothesis as to why colon cancer rates, for example, are high in the U.S. and seem to be occurring more in younger patients is the combination of an inflammatory diet and a sedentary lifestyle, which creates an environment that makes cancers grow easier.

Related: 110 Foods You Can Eat on the Mediterranean Diet—From Hummus to Beets to...Octopus? Use This List to Help You Grocery Shop

Dr. Anaum Maqsood, MD, a specialist in Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and Hematology Oncology at Houston Methodist, also says that eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is the best way to lower the risk of cancer through diet. “No food can prevent cancer. However, eating healthy meals can help reduce your risk of developing cancer. Eat a lot of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans, nuts and seeds. These foods are beneficial since they are packed with antioxidants and are protective against diseases, including cancer,” she says, name-checking the very same foods that are the cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet.

What an Oncologist Rarely Eats, With Cancer Prevention in Mind

Now that you know what foods it’s important to eat regularly, let's focus on the next big question: Which ones should you avoid? Dr. Maqsood says that one food she avoids is processed meats. “I avoid processed meats because they contain nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are considered a strong carcinogen and have been associated with several cancer types, including lung, brain, liver, kidney, bladder, stomach and nasal sinus,” she explains.

Scientific research does show a connection between a diet high in processed meat and increased cancer risk. One study found that processed meat consumption increased the likelihood of breast cancer by 6% and the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, in addition to raising the risk of other types of cancer.

Related: Kick Off Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet Journey With These 104 Mouthwatering Food Options

Dr. Landau says that he tries to avoid overly processed foods. “I often say that if it comes in a bag, it probably isn't healthy,” he shares. “This includes things like potato chips and other snacks that are highly packed with salt and preservatives. Most items that come in a bagged form have additives in them to keep them from going bad. These preservatives also often have toxic properties, some of which are even on lists of toxins that are known to be carcinogens at high levels.” Scientific research backs this up as well, showing a connection between a diet high in ultra-processed foods and overall cancer risk.

In addition to minimizing consumption of ultra-processed foods, including processed meats, Dr. Maqsood recommends minimizing alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of various types of cancer in hundreds of scientific studies.

Instead of getting too hung up on the foods that you should avoid if you want to lower your risk of cancer, focus on all the delicious foods you can eat. One reason why the Mediterranean diet is so beloved is that it isn’t restrictive; there are thousands of foods you can eat while following it. Knowing your meal is truly nourishing your body will only add to the pleasure you’ll get from enjoying it.

Next up, here's what an oncologist snacks on, with cancer prevention in mind.