Each day, social media feeds are filled with clickbait articles reporting that a common food or additive is capable of causing cancer. And while certain foods have been shown to directly increase risk for certain types of cancer, the degree of concern over certain foods is drastically overblown as per current research.
At the same time, certain foods that have been shown to be inherently carcinogenic are not commonly recognized by the average consumer. Carcinogens in foods should be avoided completely to help prevent cancer.
If you’re concerned about carcinogens in foods, there are a few crucial things to know:
1) Foods are evaluated for carcinogenicity based on research reviews and laboratory study. The system of classification is overseen by the INternational Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). The IARC makes its findings readily available to the public, with carcinogens and potential carcinogens organized into 1 of 4 groups:
Group 1A: Carcinogenic to Humans
Group 2A: Probably Carcinogenic to Humans
Group 2B: Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans
Group 3: Unclassifiable as To Carcinogenicity in Humans
Group 4: Probably Not Carcinogenic to Humans
2) Given the difficulty of studying and classifying cancer risk, very few substances are classified as Group 1 Carcinogens. At present time, about 100, few of which are food.
Alcohol and cured and processed meats (including sausage, bacon, jerky, and smoked meats, amongst others) are the two most commonly consumed food items belonging in Group 1.
3) Making matters even more complex, most carcinogens in foods have a dose-dependent effect.
For example, for each 50g of cured or processed meat consumed (less than 2 oz) per day, risk for colon cancer increases by 18%.
For each 10g of alcohol consumed per day, risk of breast cancer increase by 7%. Additionally, certain individuals (such as those with a family history of cancer) are impacted to a higher degree than others.
So what should you do when it comes to Group 1 Food products, or any food product found in Groups 2A or 2B?
In general, it’s always best to avoid any product shown to be carcinogenic. However, for most consumers, even the threat of cancer will not deter a consumptive behavior.
Especially for those with a family history, reducing intake of alcohol and processed meats is key.
For others, even a moderate reduction in consumption can reduce risk for various cancers, including most prominently those of the breast, esophagus, colon, mouth, throat, liver, and stomach.
Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).