As the world celebrates cancer prevention month, experts are warning on the types of foods to avoid to reduce risks of getting the disease.
“For those who love T-bone steak, go easy on it,” says Catherine Nyongesa, an oncologist and founder of Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi.
“You can eat it but not every night and not every week. Save the steak as a once in a while treat and be sure the beef is organic.”
Dr Nyongesa says several studies have shown that red meat is good but in small and infrequent portions. The beef from grass-fed cows contains conjugated linoleic acid that helps in fighting certain cancers.
However, she warned that eating a lot of red meat every day, increases a man’s risk of dying from cancer by 22 per cent and a woman’s chance by 20 per cent. A high intake increases colon, prostate and breast cancers risk.
Long-term intake of fish and poultry causes no much harm as long the meat is not laced with additives, pesticides and hormones.
Canned foods, especially tomatoes, Dr Nyongesa, warns contain bisphenol-A (BPA), a product that is used to make plastics and is linked to many kinds of cancers.
Unfortunately, BPA is found in many products including baby bottles. However, it is not considered dangerous unless heated.
“Canned tomatoes are believed to be exceptionally dangerous due to their high acidity, which seems to cause the BPA to leech from the lining of the can into the tomatoes. The level of BPA can be so high.”
“Buy fresh tomatoes and use glass bottles for children,” advises Dr Nyongesa.
Processed meat such as sausages, hot dogs and bacon, she says, contain numerous chemicals and preservatives, including sodium nitrates, which make them look appealing and fresh but are well-known carcinogens.
“Charred meats are particularly bad because they pick up tar during the smoking process. Tar is the same deadly ingredient in cigarette smoke which causes cancer,” she says.
Dr Nyongesa also warns against eating microwave food, especially popcorn. She says the conventional microwave popcorn bags are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid.
Numerous studies show that exposure to the chemical when the food is heating significantly increases the risk of kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas and testicular cancers.
She says French fries are also risky.
“We know, potato chips are cheap, great tasting, quick snack but the negative effects they have on the body may not be worth the little bit of pleasure you derive from these crispy snacks,” warns Dr Nyongesa.
She says potato chips are usually fried in high temperatures to make them crispy. In the process, they produce acrylamide, a known carcinogen found in cigarettes.
“It’s hard to say no when children ask for chips. As a sneaky alternative, buy them baked potato chips which are low in both fat and calories,” says the oncologist.
Dr Nyongesa says all hydrogenated oils are cancerous since they are chemically removed from their source and changed to appeal to consumers.
“They are frequently deodorised and coloured to look appealing. All vegetable oils contain high levels of Omega — 6 fatty acids. An excess of Omega-6 fatty acids causes health problems, such as heart disease and an increase in various cancers, especially skin cancer.
“Hydrogenated oils are used to preserve processed foods and keep them appealing for a long as possible,” she says.
Hydrogenated oils change cell membranes’ structure and flexibility, which is linked to cancer.
She advises people to avoid foods that are highly salted, pickled or smoked since they are cured by the use of nitrates or nitrites, which act as preservatives as well as adding colour to the food.
“Under certain conditions, these chemicals change once they are inside the body into N-nitroso composites. It’s this N-nitroso that is associated with a greater increase in the risk of developing cancers,” she said.
Smoked foods such as meat or nuts cause them to absorb the tar that smoke produces.
Meats such as bacon and sausage are also high in fat and salt. Pickled foods also have a lot of salt.
Research shows that these types of foods increase the risk of colorectal and stomach cancers.
The incidence of stomach cancer is higher in places such as Japan where a traditional diet contains highly salted, and/or smoked foods.
Some non-organic fruits are contaminated with very dangerous pesticides such as atrazine, thiodicarb, and organophosphates as well as nitrogen-based fertilisers.
Atrazine is a weed killer that causes severe problems in humans, especially in our reproductive capabilities.
Fruits with a 90 per cent positive rate of pesticide residue included oranges, strawberries, and grapes.
“Wash your fruits like apples, oranges, strawberries, and grapes to reduce the pesticide residue before you eat,” says Dr Nyongesa.
Diet foods, including frozen or pre-packaged foods labelled as ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’, including diet sodas, generally contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener.
Numerous studies show that aspartame causes many diseases such as cancer, birth defects, and heart problems.