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4 Carcinogenic Foods You Might Be Consuming Regularly

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 21, 2022

4 Carcinogenic Foods You Might Be Consuming Regularly

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. And as much as experts believe some foods can help reduce cancer risk, they also think that some foods are carcinogenic. What are carcinogenic foods, and how can knowing more about them help diminish the chances of acquiring cancer? The answers and more in this article. 

What Are Carcinogenic Foods?

When something is carcinogenic – be it food or substances – it means that it has the potential to cause cancer. Hence, eating carcinogenic foods can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer in the future. 

But, as simple as it sounds, note that the ability of carcinogenic food to cause cancer is interconnected with other variables. 

For instance, eating a serving of red meat, which studies have already determined to be carcinogenic, is unlikely to cause cancer. But, consuming servings upon servings of red meat daily is another story. 

Of course, other factors you need to look into are the person’s family history of cancer, their environmental exposure to carcinogenic substances and lifestyle habits. 

The bottom line is that thinking about carcinogenic foods is just one facet of preventing cancer

List: Known Carcinogenic Foods

If you want to be one step ahead of reducing your cancer risk, consider limiting your consumption of the following foods:

Red Meat

We’ve already mentioned red meat earlier, so let’s talk about it first. The World Health Organization identifies red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” because of its strong association with colorectal cancer.

The word “probably” is inserted because the limited studies that we have haven’t yet ruled out other factors (like the ones we mentioned: family history, etc.)

Red meat refers to the mammalian muscle meat, which includes pork, lamb, beef, veal, goat, horse, and mutton. 

Recommended Servings: 1 to 2 servings weekly, equivalent to 6 ounces (170 grams) per week. 

Processed Meat

If red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” processed meat is considered by the WHO as carcinogenic to humans. That means there is convincing evidence that processed meats can cause cancer. 

Processed meats are products that have undergone processes to improve flavor and shelf life. Examples of these processes are salting, fermentation, curing, smoking, etc. 

Recommended Servings: Should you wish to consume processed meat, experts say limit it to 3 portions per week. Portions mean the amount you decide to eat – not the serving size. About 350 to 500 grams will be good. 

Alcoholic Beverages

The International Agency for Research on Cancer identifies alcoholic beverages (both fermented and distilled) as carcinogenic. 

Reports say there are already numerous studies linking alcoholic beverages to cancers of the breast, liver, mouth, larynx, pharynx, and esophagus. 

Recommended Servings: Women may have a drink or less a day. For men, 2 drinks or less daily is recommended. Note that one drink differs in measurement depending on the type of beverage (for wine, 5 ounces is 1 drink). 

Salted Fish

Note that there are no studies listing salted fish in carcinogenic foods. However, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC, the process of salting produces carcinogenic compounds, hence they identified salted fish as carcinogenic to humans. 

Recommended Servings: As much as possible consume fresh fish instead. You can have 8 ounces of fish weekly (226 grams). 

Final Reminders

Note that other foods, which some people may say are carcinogens, are not really carcinogenic. For instance, tofu does not cause breast cancer. Sugary foods are not carcinogenic foods. However, eating foods high in sugar can make it difficult for you to manage your weight, and increased weight is a risk factor for cancer. 

Even with this list, remember that when it comes to diet, consuming a variety of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables and whole grains, is the best course to take. If you have concerns over your diet and nutrition, please don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. 

Learn more about Cancer here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 21, 2022

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