Which Foods Are Cancer Risks?

478115157Many different types of cancers are common among African Americans. While many cancers are more common among whites, Blacks are more likely to die from them. The good news is you can help lower your risk of cancer just by watching what you eat.

Not that this is necessarily the easiest thing to do; with so much conflicting information out there, eating to keep your risk of cancer low might be even more difficult than eating to lose weight. There is no single study that can provide all the information you need to determine which foods lower the risk of cancer and which foods increase cancer risks.

But not to worry! We have sorted through these studies and broken down the list of foods and nutrients that are suspected of potentially increasing cancer risks, as well as those considered to be cancer-fighters.


Alcohol increases the risk of many types of cancers including mouth, liver, breast and colon cancers.  People who drink alcohol should limit intake to no more than two per day for men and one per day for women. Women with a family history or high risk of breast cancer should nix drinking alcohol altogether.


Studies show people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of some types of cancers. Fruits and vegetables are filled with antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and other plant chemicals. To reduce cancer risk, get your antioxidants from food sources, not supplements.


Despite popular belief, the low-calorie artificial sweetener aspartame is not proven to cause cancer. Current studies have found no link between aspartame intake and increased cancer risk.  However, people with the metabolic genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria should still avoid aspartame.


Beta-carotene is an antioxidant related to vitamin A. Because beta-carotene is found in fruits and vegetables, it may be tempting to assume high doses of beta-carotene supplements can be nothing but good for you. Three major clinical trials have shown otherwise. According to studies, high doses of beta-carotene supplements actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Eat vegetables and fruits, but avoid beta-carotene supplements.

Bioengineered Foods

Foods with genes added from other organisms to increase pest resistance, protect from spoiling, improve flavor or add nutrients are considered bioengineered.  Currently there is no evidence that bioengineered foods have any affect on cancer risk.


Several studies have shown that foods high in calcium might help reduce the risk for colorectal cancer. On the other hand, studies have shown that high calcium intake, especially through calcium supplements, may increase risk for prostate cancer. Because of this, it is important for men and women to aim for the recommended 1,000 mg daily for those 19 to 50 years old and 1,200 mg daily for those older than 50.  Be sure to get most of your daily intake of calcium from food sources.


Diets high in fat contribute to obesity which is linked with an increase of many types of cancer. Saturated fat in particular is directly linked with possibly increasing cancer risk even in non-obese people. Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive and canola oils, are healthy fats, but watch monounsaturated fat intake to avoid overdoing it.


Studies have examined the effects of fiber on cancer risks but the results have been inconsistent. Fiber still offers other health benefits so get your recommended 25 to 30 grams daily. Good sources of fiber are vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans.


The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. As for cancer, studies done on animals show fatty acids suppress cancer formation in animals, but there is no evidence of this in humans.


Grain products in the United States are fortified with folate. Folate is a B vitamin found in many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Folate is a B vitamin found in many vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. Deficiency of this nutrient is linked to increased cancer risk of the colon, breast and rectum. This risk is heightened in alcohol drinkers.  To reduce cancer risk, get plenty of folate from fruits, grains and vegetables.

Processed Meats

It’s not clear whether the nitrites in processed meats such as lunch meats and hot dogs is responsible for increased colorectal, breast and stomach cancers, but it’s clear that there is a link. Eating processed meats preserved by smoking or salting methods increases exposure to cancer-causing agents. Limit or avoid eating processed meats by shopping for all natural, organic and minimally processed meats.

Olive Oil

As a healthy alternative to butter and margarine, olive oil has certainly made a name for itself in the world of healthy eating. Olive oil is definitely healthy for the heart, but studies linking it to reduced risk of breast cancer are not concrete.


Tomatoes get their reddish orange pigment from a plant chemical called lycopene. And while studies have shown that eating tomatoes reduces the risk of some cancers, it is not clear whether lycopene is responsible for reduced cancer risk as was previously believed.  So don’t substitute with lycopene supplements. Try to get five servings of tomatoes or tomato products into your diet weekly.