Image adapted from Thelonious Gonzo, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0Today, cancer is the number two killer of Americans, second only to heart disease. It’s estimated to hit about one in three people nowadays, a statistic which should alarm everyone into taking preventative action in their own lives. Pollution, genetics and diet are all contributing factors to how much cancer risk we expose ourselves to. While we may not have control over pollution or genetics, we can certainly take control with what we eat. Read on to see the top four cancer-causing foods you should avoid, as well as the top four anti-cancer foods you should be eating more of.

4 Top Carcinogenic Foods to Avoid

1) Potato chips and French fries.

Potato chips and French fries, some of America’s tastiest snacks, are sadly found to be extremely high in the carcinogen acrylamide, which the World Health Organization has found to pose a “major concern” to human health. Acrylamide is a chemical usually reserved for industrial purposes like making paper and plastics, but it is also formed in cooking when certain foods are heated to high temperatures—such as the frying of potatoes to make our salty fries and crunchy chips. Better to avoid exposure to this nasty chemical and make some baked sweet potato fries instead.

2) Oxidized fats.

    Fats found in unsaturated oils, such as olive oil canola oil, or other vegetable oils, become rancid when they are exposed to both air and heat. Typically, the amount of air exposure they receive during storage and cooking is nominal, but the heat treatment they get during frying or repeated usage in the kitchen becomes dangerous. Researchers have found oxidized fats to produce “a variety of mutagens, promoters, and carcinogens,” all of which are related to the formation of cancers. Reduce your exposure to fried foods of all sorts, including fried chicken, vegetable tempura or even the carnival fave—churros.

    3) Nitrites.

      Sodium nitrite is a chemical additive that preserves the appearance and integrity of certain foods, usually processed meats, bacon and hot dogs. Cured foods like smoked fish will also usually contain nitrites (check the labels). This well-intended chemical becomes carcinogenic when it combines with the amines in protein-rich food (exactly the animal foods they are applied to in the first place), and the carcinogen nitrosamine is formed as a by-product. While researchers have been beating around the bush with this cancer-connection for years, we’ve seen enough “associations” between nitrite consumption and gastric cancers to know to avoid these foods.

      4) Grilled or charcoaled foods.

        Researchers have shown us that the longer foods are exposed to intense direct heat—especially meat foods—the more carcinogens, called heterocyclic amines, are produced. Find out how to reduce your exposure to HCAs while still enjoying your summer grilling… kebabs anyone?

        Top 4 Anti-Carcinogenic Foods to Eat

        1) Berries.

          Fresh berries, particularly those with dark and purple hues, have been well-documented to contain strong doses of antioxidants which can help to prevent cancer. In addition, a powerful chemical known as phytoalexin has been shown to have inhibitory effects on the process of carcinogenesis, giving even more proof to consumers that these delicious sweet treats of nature deserve to be our daily desserts.  

          2) Turmeric.

            The yellow, slightly pungent spice used in Indian cuisine may have much to offer as an anti-carcinogen. It contains a chemical called curcumin which has been shown to inhibit cancer formation in cells. Spice up your tofu scrambles and baked fish fillets with a few dashes of this healing powder.  

            3) Tomato products.

              Lycopene has been proven time and again to be a strong anti-carcinogen in lab research. Tomato products, from tomato sauce to tomato paste, may contribute greatly to prostate cancer risk reduction.  

              4) Cruciferous vegetables.

                You probably can still hear your mother nagging into your ear at the dinner table: “Finish your broccoli!” But, she was right. Broccoli, as well as cabbage, kale and other cruciferous vegetables, contain both antioxidants as well as minerals like selenium, which prevent cancer in a number of ways: Protecting the cells against oxidation; increasing detoxification of the cells; decreasing carcinogenic activity the body; and slowing tumor growths. So eat your broccoli!

                Image adapted from Thelonious Gonzo, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0