The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said in a recent report that while there is no evidence to prove that coffee is carcinogenic, drinking very hot coffee, or any liquid above 65 degrees Celsius, can be a potential cancer risk. According to the report, very hot liquids can scald the throat, and this, over a period of time, can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
While various studies have regularly added and remove food items from the list of potential cancer threats, there are some food that are known to be carcinogenic in nature, and hence best avoided. Here are 10 such food items:
Processed meat: In 2015, a study conducted by IARC placed processed meat in the category 1 of cancer causing substances (most carcinogenic). According to the study, consuming 50 gms of meat such as hot dogs, ham and bacon which go through the process of smoking, salting, curing or fermenting, on a daily basis, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Processed meat contains chemicals such as sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, both of which are linked to increasing the risk of cancer. The Agency has also classified red meat as a probable carcinogen. Hence, it is advisable to eat only uncured meat, preferably from grass fed animals. A diet high in fruits, fibre and vegetables is also a better alternative.
Microwave popcorn: While popcorn in itself may not be that bad, the bag that the microwave popcorn comes in is lined with Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man made chemical, which, when heated has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. In addition, the buttery flavor and aroma that is added to microwave popcorn contains an aroma enhancing chemical known as diacetly, which has also been linked to lung disease. Hence, a healthy option would be buy organic popcorn kernels and pop it the traditional way.
Refined white flour: A highly common ingredient in most breads, cakes and other processed and baked items, refined white flour has zero nutritional value, and is bleached with chlorine gas. It has a high glycemic index, which causes rapid raise in blood sugar levels and leads to increased insulin resistance. This feeds cancer the growth and spread of cancer cells. Opt for healthy alternatives such as whole wheat flour, almond flour, soy flour, etc, instead.
Refined sugar: A definite no no, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other refined sugars are among the biggest cancer causing food. Glucose feeds every cell in the body, and cancer cells take in sugar at 10-12 times the rate of healthy cells. According to German Otto Warburg, the 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine, cancer cells are known to thrive in an acidic environment and, with a pH of about 6.4, sugar is highly acidic. Excess sugar ingestion also leads to obesity, and a large number of cancer cases are triggered by excess body fat. Healthy alternates to sugar can be jaggery, honey, stevia leaves and date sugar.
Cured and salt preserved food: While salt is essential in our diet, a salt heavy diet has been linked to increased risk of stomach cancer. Salt has been found to increase the action of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is known to cause inflammation and gastric ulcers, that can later progress into stomach cancer. Cured food should also be avoided, as it is high on salt and is usually preserved using chemicals such as nitrates or nitrites. While they do not cause cancer on their own, under certain conditions, they may change into by-products called N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamines and nitrosamides, which associated with an increased risk of cancer. It would be best to avoid buying packaged food, and have freshly cooked food, with less salt, instead. You can also reduce the amount of salt you add in your food, and use lemon and fresh herbs such as cardamom, cinnamon, basil and cayenne pepper, to add flavour to your food.
Hydrogenated oils: Among the most dangerous of food items is Hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen to oil to make it thicker, and to increase the shelf life. In India, Vanaspati ghee, a type of shortening made from hydrogenated vegetable oils, is sometimes used as a cheaper alternative to ghee and butter. Hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats, are also sometimes used in cookies, biscuits and other processed food items. The consumption of trans fats has been linked to breast cancer.
Farmed fish: Farm raised salmon has been found to contain Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PUB), which are cancer causing chemicals. In addition, most of the farm grown fish are treated with pesticides and antibiotics, which are potentially carcinogenic.
Soda drinks: Filled with sugar and calories, and having zero nutritional value, soft drinks, and even their diet versions, are extremely detrimental to health. According to studies, drinking two soft drinks a week can increase the amount of insulin that the pancreas produces, hence doubling the risk of pancreatic cancer. In addition, the caramel colour in soft drinks is from an organic chemical compound called 4-methylimidazole, which has been found to increase the risk of developing cancer. Genetically Modified Food: The question of whether Genetically Modified Food, which is made from plant and animal sources which have had their DNA changed, causes cancer or not, has been up for debate since long, but a French study found that rats that were fed with genetically modified corn developed mammary tumours and had severe liver and kidney damage. Which makes it best to avoid eating them and using naturally grown, preferably organic produce, as much as possible.
French fries: The crispiness that makes French fries and potato chips so delectable, may be due to a chemical known as acrylamide, which is carcinogenic. This same chemical is also found in cigarette smoke. Acrylamide is formed when the starchy food is cooked at a high temperature, causing a chemical reaction between certain sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) in the food. The alternative would be to avoid crispy French fries, and opt for healthier snacks such as nuts and fruits, instead. And if you must have potato chips, opt for the baked ones instead.