5 Cancer Causing Foods to Avoid

“Is there anything I shouldn’t eat?”

There are several questions I am asked frequently by my patients, and this is certainly one of them.

As an oncology dietitian, I work with patients throughout the course of cancer treatment to ensure they are properly nourished. Outside of cancer treatment, we focus on reducing the risk of recurrence.   

Did you know?

Evidence indicates, of all cancer deaths (0):

  • 5-10% are related to genetics

  • 20-25% are related to smoking

  • 15-25% are related to infection

  • 30-35% are related to diet

  • And the remaining percent are related to radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental exposures, etc.

Let’s look at that list again . . .

Diet accounts for the largest percent of cancer deaths.

Yet, how often do we hear about the connection between diet and cancer? Not enough.

That is why Wholesome exists.

There are countless things that can cause cancer. And unfortunately, we cannot control or completely eliminate all of them. But, we can focus on the ones we can control, including what we eat.

Here are 5 foods I encourage an individual to eliminate or drastically reduce from their diet for cancer prevention and the prevention of recurrence.

  1. Processed Meat

Although I didn’t plan on putting this list in any particular order, I suppose it is no coincidence processed meat was the first on my mind.

Processed Meat, Cancer Causing Foods | Wholesome LLC

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is focused on identifying what causes cancer so preventative measures can be taken. Almost 1,000 carcinogens (or, cancer causing substances) have been identified and are grouped based on the research available and how likely the substance is to cause cancer in humans.

The first category is “Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans”. On that list, smoking, asbestos, plutonium . . .

And, the consumption of processed meat.

Yep, processed meat is in the same category as smoking and other pretty scary substances.

Processed meat includes, but is not limited to: bacon, sausage, lunch meat, hot dogs, bratwurst, pepperoni.

And yes, I’m sorry to say it, but lunch meat from the deli counter still counts. And yes, even Boar’s Head brand or other ‘high-quality’ brands.

You can see this list here if you want to see what else is a “Group 1 Carcinogen”.

2. Red Meat

If you scroll a bit farther down the list I linked above and make it to “Group 2A: Probably Carcinogenic to Humans”, you’ll find:

Red Meat (consumption of)

Red meat includes, but is not limited to: beef, pork, veal, and lamb.

Yes, you read that correctly, pork “the other white meat” is actually a red meat. Hats off to the marketing team from the pork industry making so many of us believe pork is actually a white meat.

Dairy, Cancer Causing Foods | Wholesome LLC

3. Dairy

Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products increase the risk of cancer in a few different ways. I wrote a blog post on “Dairy, Hormones, and Cancer” where you can read more.

In a nutshell, the consumption of dairy increases our exposure to sex steroids (e.g. estrogen and progesterone) and increases + over stimulates IGF-1 (a growth stimulating protein known to stimulate cancer growth).

4. Alcohol

Alcohol was found to be responsible for 3.5% of cancer deaths in 2009, according to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health. Even more shockingly, 15% of all breast cancer deaths were considered to be related to alcohol. (2)


And if we head back to the IARC list of carcinogens, alcohol consumption is right at the top and listed as a “Group 1 Carcinogen”.

If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. If you do, it is recommended you limit your consumption. The World Health Organization and American Institute for Cancer Research recommends no more than one serving of alcohol per day for women, two servings for men.

Eggs, Cancer Causing Foods | Wholesome LLC

5. Eggs

Men who consume 2.5 eggs (or greater) each week, have been found to increase their risk of dying from prostate cancer by 81%. (3)

81 percent!

And that is equivalent to only one egg every 3 days, or so.

Why? The nutrient choline, which the egg industry and others often promote as a ‘super nutrient’, is converted into the toxin trimethylamine. When this toxin is oxidized (or, undergoes a reaction) in our liver it has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death. (4)


After reading this list, you may be overwhelmed thinking, “what should I eat then?!”

Thankfully, there is an abundant amount of research regarding whole, plant-based foods as the foundation of a healthy diet.

We’ve got you covered on what this entails over at our post, “Healthiest Diet” and loads of recipes avoiding these five foods.

What food(s) on the list shocked you, if any?


(1) Anand, P., & Kunnumakara, A. (2008). Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research, 25(9), 2097-2116. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/.

(2) Nelson, D. E., MD, MPH, & Jarman, D. J., DVM, MPH. (2013). Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States [Abstract]. American Journal of Public Health, 103(4), 641-648. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301199.

(3) Richman EL, Kenfield SA, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL, Chan JM. Egg, red meat, and poultry intake and risk of lethal prostate cancer in the prostate-specific antigen-era: incidence and survival. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2011;4(12):2110-21.

(4) Tang WH, Wang Z, Levison BS, et al. Intestinal microbial metabolism of phosphatidylcholine and cardiovascular risk. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(17):1575-84.