Every week there’s a new article explaining why your favorite foods
may be bad for you. It can be tough to wade through the information overload
on certain foods and their possible connection to cancer. Let’s
start with the beloved hazelnut spread: Can Nutella cause cancer?
The ingredient catching flack in Nutella is palm oil, which is also used
in chocolate, margarine and baked goods. Last year the
European Food Safety Authority warned that the popular hazelnut spread’s key ingredient poses a cancer
risk because it’s potentially carcinogenic when heated above a certain
Some science talk: Harmful substances called glycidyl fatty acid esters,
or GEs, form during food processing when palm oil is heated above 392
degrees. The EFSA said high exposure to GEs is a “concern for all
The maker of Nutella has said the company processes its palm oil below
this temperature. And when you sift through the jargon, EFSA didn’t
recommend consumers stop eating it, as there was further studying to be
done to assess the risk.
But here’s some food for thought: potentially more concerning is
the link between palm oil and heart health, as the oil is high in saturated
fat. Though studies so far have been conflicting, palm oil may increase
certain heart disease risk factors in some people, so it’s best
to talk to your doctor about which oil is best for you.
Environmental groups have also expressed concerns about the demand for
palm oil endangering rainforests and animals.
Another headline causing some heated discussions is about coffee and a
potential link to cancer. Before its ultimate reversal this summer, a
California judge caused an uproar when he ruled in favor of requiring
cancer warnings on coffee due to the presence of the chemical acrylamide.
The chemical has been linked to increased cancer risk when given to rodents
in high concentrations.
The FDA disputed that such warnings would mislead consumers, and that acrylamide
forms during the roasting of coffee beans. Further,the World Health Organization has found no conclusive evidence drinking coffee has a carcinogenic effect, and the consensus is that trace
amounts of acrylamide in coffee are not harmful.
Now, while you can still enjoy that occasional Nutella snack and your morning
cup of coffee, take note that there are some foods that have repeatedly
shown in studies to increase the risk of cancer. Here are a couple of biggies:
Processed meat, which includes bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham, can increase
the risk of colorectal cancer,
according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO researchers found that eating a certain amount of processed meat
every day -- the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog --
increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
This summer, the American Cancer Society lowered its colorectal cancer
screening recommendation to age 45 due to
new data that shows the rates of colorectal cancer are increasing in younger
populations. Does the WHO’s conclusion explain the rise in colorectal cancer
among younger adults? Though there has been no direct link yet, the American
Cancer Society does encourage healthier eating and a more active lifestyle
to “try to reverse this trend.”
It’s common knowledge that heavy drinking is not good for your health,
but it may not be as widely known that alcohol use has been linked to
multiple cancers, not just liver cancer. Across the board, the more alcohol
a person drinks regularly over time, the higher the risk of cancer (the
drink of choice has not shown to affect the risk, just the amount). Here’s
a look at some of the other cancers linked to alcohol:
Cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus
- Drinking and smoking together raises the risk
Alcohol can allow the harmful chemicals in tobacco to get inside the cells
in the mouth and esophagus
and affect how these cells repair damage caused by those very chemicals
- Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk
- Alcohol can raise estrogen levels, which may explain some of the increased risk
- The risk is higher in women who don’t get enough folate
- An increased risk is generally stronger in men, but studies have found
the link in both men and women