Cancer is a genetic disease caused by mutations. In our lasting posting, 'Misconceptions on Mutants Debunked,' you learned that hereditary cancers occur by inherited gene mutations, and sporadic cancers occur by acquired gene mutations. Cancer is a very complex disease that can result from multiple factors, including genetic mutations and environmental factors.  Experts say that dietary habits account for 30 to 33% of cancer development, among many environmental factors.

Here are foods you should avoid to lower the risk for many cancers.

1. Processed meat

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meat, such as ham, sausages, and bacon, as carcinogenic. When we cook processed meat, nitrates and sorbic acids added for food coloring and preservation create carcinogens called N-nitroso compounds. Eating 50g of processed meat every day, which is the equivalent of two slices of bacon, can lead to an 18% increase in the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Processed meat, salted fish and cancer risk | WCRF International
Evidence on how the preservation and processing of foods can affect the risk of developing cancer, from World Cancer Research Fund

2. Foods cooked at high temperature

You might have heard that eating lots of burned food can lead to cancer. This statement may not be entirely an urban myth. When you grill or fry meat at a high temperature, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are generated from reactions between molecules of the amino acid, creatine, and sugar. HCAs are carcinogens that damage DNA and lead to gene mutations. Remember, grilling and frying food generate more carcinogens than boiling. And the higher the cooking temperature, the higher the cancer risk.

Mechanistic Evidence for Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Risk: A Follow-up on the International Agency for Research on Cancer Evaluation of 2015 - PubMed
The Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the consumption of processed meat as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), and classified red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A); consumption of both meat types is associated with an increased risk of colorec…
Dietary Heterocyclic Amine Intake and Colorectal Adenoma Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis - PubMed
This study provides evidence for a positive association between the dietary intake of meat mutagens and CRA risk.

3. Sugary drinks

If you want to lower the risks of cancer, you better avoid drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup, such as soda and soft drinks. Drinking excessive amounts of sugary drinks leads to obesity, which increases the risk of developing various cancers, with the risk for breast cancer going up by 22% in particular. Moreover, sugary drinks make blood sugar levels soar and impair the blood sugar management functions of the insulin, causing diseases such as breast cancer and liver cancer.

Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort - PubMed NCT03335644.

4. High sodium foods

East Asians have about a 17% higher risk of developing gastric cancer than other populations worldwide as salted vegetables and fish pickles are often included in their diet. A high salt diet elevates the risk of helicobacter pylori infection and damages tissues, leading to gastric cancer. Moreover, in the process of making pickled fish with salt, the carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds are generated.

Pickled Vegetable and Salted Fish Intake and the Risk of Gastric Cancer: Two Prospective Cohort Studies and a Meta-Analysis - PubMed
An increased risk of gastric cancer for pickled vegetable and salted fish intake has been suggested, yet the lack of a dose-response association warrants a quantitative analysis. We conducted a meta-analysis, combining results from our analysis of two large Korean cohort studies and those from previ…

What did you eat today? Go through the list of foods you had today and check if they were healthy. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits over ham, sausages, and salty food. Replace grilled food with steamed or stir-fried food. Drink mineral or carbonated water instead of soft drinks. Taking small steps to change your dietary habits will make your life healthier.