Are there cancer-causing foods hiding in your diet? From artificial colors, to processed sugars, to excess fat, the average meal plan is riddled with ingredients that can wreak havoc on your body and up your odds of developing cancer.
But with a little insider knowledge, it’s possible to avoid the food mistakes that are sabotaging your waistline and making you sick. We reviewed the latest in nutrition research to bring you 10 powerful cancer-fighting food swaps. These tiny changes are easy to make, so start slashing your cancer risk today.
1. Choose fiber-rich grains over sugary cereals for breakfast. Regularly eating fiber-rich grains like unprocessed bran and oatmeal may reduce your colon cancer risk. These hearty grains can keep you slim by filling you up until lunchtime as well.
Sugary cereal, on the other hand, contains refined sugars, which carry excess calories and cause a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a binge-inducing blood sugar crash. Those extra calories can contribute to obesity as well, which is a key risk factor for cancer.
2. Pair your eggs with savory salsa or fresh tomato slices instead of bacon. Tomatoes get their red color from a chemical called lycopene. Lycopene is associated with a lower rate of prostate cancer, according to a long-term study involving over 50,000 men. Another study found that men who ate over 10 servings of tomato per week lowered their risk of prostate cancer by 18 percent.
For a mouthwatering breakfast side, plus a serving of lycopene, slice a cold, fresh tomato. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. You could also top your eggs with tomato salsa for heuvos rancheros. But pass on the pork—eating just two ounces of processed meat like bacon per day can raise your colon cancer risk by up to 17 percent.
3. Use salmon in place of beef on burger night. Red meat has been linked to higher rates of colorectal cancer and cancer death in general. But the vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, or “good” fats, found in salmon may actually help protect against colon cancer. For salmon burgers, pick a center-cut filet with the bones removed. Use wild caught salmon, rather than farm raised to avoid possible pollutants like mercury.
4. Top sandwiches with chili peppers; leave off the pickles. The occasional pickle slice is probably harmless, but diets high in pickled foods have been linked to stomach, nose and throat cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
If you’re a frequent sandwich eater looking for that extra crunch, dice up a spicy pepper instead. One study involving more than 16,000 Americans over 23 years found that regularly eating red chili peppers reduced the overall risk of dying by 13 percent.
For a sweeter spice, mix some long pepper into your sandwich spread. Long pepper is a traditional Indian spice that you grind up just like black pepper. It contains a chemical called piperlongumine, which may help fight a number of cancers including prostate and breast cancer. Still not convinced you should try it? Long pepper is rumored to be a powerful aphrodisiac and is even mentioned in the Kama Sutra.
5. Sip on sparkling water instead of soda. Regular soda is loaded with a variety of sugars. In fact, it may be up to 60 percent fructose, a type of sugar that’s associated with obesity and type II diabetes. Since obesity increases your odds of developing cancer, cutting soda may lower your risk.
But swapping diet soda for regular won’t do the trick; studies have found that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda may lead to high-calorie cravings and cause your body to store calories as fat, rather than burn them. The solution? Drink more water instead. Try crisp sparkling water to mix things up. Add lemon juice, crushed fruit or mint for flavor.
6. Pass on the mixed cocktail; order red wine at happy hour. A strong cocktail might be the only thing on your mind after a long day. But combining different alcohol shots could:
When it comes to hard liquor, just 1.5 ounces equals a serving—a single cocktail can have triple that amount or more. Since a serving of wine contains five ounces, ordering the house red can make happy hour last much longer. Plus, the occasional glass of red wine may offer some protection against heart attacks and strokes.
7. Put down the fork; pick up a pair of chopsticks. Eating with chopsticks will slow down your feeding frenzies. Even chopstick champs have a hard time shoveling giant mouthfuls of food.
Doctor Oz recommends using chopsticks for just a week. You’re bound to appreciate your food more, stick to smaller portions and feel fuller sooner. That can help you stay slim, which lowers your cancer risk and may even help you live longer.
8. Fuel up with matcha tea, rather than energy drinks. Having more than one energy drink in a day can easily lead to a caffeine overdose. Too much caffeine can cause dangerous heart rhythms, nausea, panic attacks and more. Energy drinks often contain vitamins and herbal supplements as well, each of which has its own list of possible side effects.
Drink matcha tea for your afternoon pick-me-up instead. Matcha, a potent form of green tea, is known for its combination of caffeine and a soothing amino acid called l-theanine. Together, they create a feeling of alert calmness. The antioxidants in matcha also reduce free radicals, or toxins that damage DNA and contribute to cancer.
Matcha may even fight the signs of aging and lower skin cancer risk by shielding skin cells against UV rays from the inside out, although more research is needed to confirm this.
9. Munch on acai instead of fruit-flavored snacks. Along with excess sugar, fruit-flavored snacks often contain artificial colors like red dye 40 and yellow dye 6. The FDA considers artificial colors safe in the small amounts found in fruit snacks, but some animal studies suggest a possible link between large amounts of artificial colors and tumor growth.
Get your sweet fix with a handful of acai berries instead. Acai is a popular South American fruit that contains antioxidants called flavonoids. More studies are needed to confirm the health benefits of flavonoids in humans, but according to lab studies, they may:
Berries are also memory boosting foods. In fact, one study involving a large group of aging women found that berry lovers had slower rates of mental aging. According to memory tests, women who regularly ate strawberries and blueberries scored up to 2.5 years younger mentally.
10. Stop cooking with turmeric alone. Start using turmeric with black pepper and oil. Turmeric, the yellow spice that adds bold flavor to many Indian dishes, has also been a staple of eastern medicine for centuries. More research is needed learn about the effects of turmeric in humans, but early studies suggest that it may:
Researchers often have trouble measuring the exact effects of turmeric because its active ingredient, called curcumin, tends to get inactivated quickly during digestion. However, combining turmeric with black pepper and oil dramatically increases your body’s absorption of curcumin, letting you soak up more of the powerful nutrient.
For more healthy eating tips, recipes and challenges, join Sharecare’s nutrition group. You’ll also get to connect with our nutrition experts and find support from your fellow group members.