It’s no secret that cancer is one of the biggest threats of our time, second only to heart disease. But what to do about it remains elusive. There are so many alternative treatments, it can be confusing to find the right ones for you or someone you love.
Here’s at least one thing you needn’t be confused about: What you eat matters (despite what conventional cancer doctors will tell you.) Doctors and scientists who are experts on alternative cancer treatment broadly agree that cancer thrives on certain foods, while others help kill it off.
Here’s your guide to making the best food choices possible so you can prevent cancer, and improve your chances of getting rid of it if you’ve already got it.
Worst foods for cancer
1) What to steer clear of: Sugar
We already know sugar is bad for us as the lead instigator behind weight gain and diabetes. But it also damages your cells and raises your risk of cancer. In fact, obesity and diabetes are two of the biggest cancer risks, right along with smoking.
According to research led by Dr. Custodia Garcia-Jimenez at the University Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, the high sugar levels behind obesity and diabetes are precisely what increases the activity of a gene connected to cancer growth.
Sugar also adds fuel to the fire of cancer by feeding tumors. Cancer cells have their own peculiar form of metabolism. They don’t “eat” the way healthy cells do: They consume vastly greater amounts of glucose (blood sugar). This leads to a brutal cycle of growth and stimulation.
What to eat instead: If you want to curb your sugar cravings, try these three approaches:
- Learn to like fruit. It does raise blood sugar, but not as much or in the same way as table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The sweetness in fruit comes packaged in healthy fiber and a vast cornucopia of nutrients, many of which are lethal to cancer cells.
- Drink kombucha to replace your sugar cravings. This soda is currently all the rage in health food stores and even some mainstream markets, and will also do wonders for enhancing your gut flora. Most brands are extremely low in calories (think 35 calories per 15 ounce bottle), with very little sugar (often eight grams or less). Get hooked on it and one a day will keep the doctors at bay.
- Use natural sweeteners including fruit juice and stevia to sweeten your food.
2) What to steer clear of: Crinkly, plastic-wrapped foods
If you come across food that’s sealed in a silver or wax-paper-like wrapper because it’s designed to live for months on supermarket shelves without spoiling… your best bet is to leave it there.
A study out of France that looked at over 100,000 adults for several years found processed foods to be more closely linked with cancer than age, exercise level, eating habits, or family history, among other things.
A good rule of thumb is that if a food has more than five ingredients listed on the label, you shouldn’t eat it. More likely than not those ingredients are chemicals, not foods. Don’t eat artificial anything. Processed foods often contain a lot of extra sugar, too, which you’re now trying to avoid (see #1).
What to eat instead: Fresh foods and whole grains, preferably organic. The organic part is important because, as you start to eat healthy foods, you may as well stop eating insect poisons and weed poisons while you’re at it.
- It’s no secret that fresh fruits and vegetables are the healthiest way to go to avoid any lifestyle disease, and cancer in particular. But busy as most of us are, it’s a problem to prepare fresh foods instead of buying a packaged food that’s ready-to-eat. A few changes that help include changing your daily drive home so you swing by the grocery store. If you’re getting vegetables every day or every other day, it only takes ten minutes to run in and shop. Or try a meal delivery service and have fresh produce delivered to your door weekly.
- Many people swear by the new trend of Insta-pots for cooking quick meals including rice and quinoa. It’s about an $80 investment. But if it means you give up buying processed foods, which are marked up at a premium, you’ll likely recoup that cash in a matter of months.
3) What to steer clear of: Charred meat.
Blackened steak and other meats from the grill cut a pretty clear path to cancer, thanks to the dangerous compounds they form when cooked. Muscle meats cooked on the grill form compounds called HCAs and PAHS (heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).
When cooked over an open flame, juices and fats released from these foods spark flames that then cook the dangerous chemicals into the meat. Lab tests show these chemicals alter DNA in ways that could increase your cancer risk.
What to eat instead: Meat substitutes or fresh meat cooked in protected pans. Slow cooking or baking at low temperatures is fine. Basically, you don’t want to eat burned meat.
If you don’t mind using a wrought-iron griddle above your grill to keep the juices of the meats from mixing with the flames, that’s a step in the right direction.
There are also an increasing number of meat substitutes on the market that give you the flavor and texture of real meat without the carcinogen load. Eggplant, chickpea, and black bean burgers are all healthy alternatives. Marinated tofu is an option, as are Portobello mushrooms or tempeh.
4) What to steer clear of: Processed meats.
These include meats like hot dogs, ham, bacon, and sausages. Take any meat that has been preserved or “enhanced” in some way, either through salting, curing, fermenting, or smoking, and you’re increasing your risk of cancer.
The World Health Organization classifies processed meat as a carcinogen. And according to research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by a full 15%.
What to eat instead: If you’re committed to the carnivorous lifestyle, opt for farm-fresh, untreated meats. And if you simply must have a hot dog the next time you go to a baseball game, make sure this is something you do just once in a while, as a special treat, and not a regular habit.
5) What to steer clear of: Alcohol.
Alcohol on its own isn’t the worst substance you can put in your body, but it’s one of the most common and most frequent indulgences across our culture. Yet according to the National Cancer Institute, your risk of developing cancer rises with every alcoholic drink you consume.
Research clearly shows that heavy and regular alcohol ingestion increases your risk of a score of different cancers, from breast and colon cancer to liver and throat cancer.
What to eat instead: I’m not going to tell you to skip the glass of champagne at your nephew’s wedding, but I will say that curbing your use of alcohol could very well help you live longer, feel happier, and probably even sleep better.
Thank goodness for alternatives
I get that it can feel overwhelming to look at lists like this and find that so many foods in common use in our culture are linked to cancer. But the good news is, we have many, many alternatives to choose from. They’re healthy, tasty, and easily accessible if we just make the effort to start looking.
While you’re buying healthy food at the supermarket, you may see some beautiful daffodils in the flower section. Don’t eat them; they’re toxic. But they do contain some newly discovered compounds that may turn out to be a great cancer treatment. If you missed the news, we’re running it again below.
- “32 of the most dangerous things science has strongly linked to cancer.” By Hilary Brueck, Jun. 18, 2018.
- madrimasd. “Excess sugar linked to cancer.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 February 2013.
- “Scientists have discovered a new link between sugar and tumor growth.” Hilary Brueck Oct. 17, 2017.
- “World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer.” Oct 26, 2015