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Cheap Eats for Hard Times: Key Factors

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Winter 2008

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results | Cheap and Healthful Options

Here is more detailed information about the factors that played a key role in The Cancer Project’s evaluation process:

High fat content: Diets high in fat, especially saturated fat, have been linked by scientific research to increased risk of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. High-fat, low-fiber foods boost the hormones that promote cancer. Specifically, diets high in meat, dairy products, fried foods, and vegetable oils cause an increase in the production of estrogen. Extra estrogen increases cancer risk in the breast and other organs sensitive to sex hormones.

Grilled meat: Grilling some animal products, including chicken, beef, pork, and fish, can produce cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). In August 2005, nutrition professionals with The Cancer Project reported on the level of HCAs found in commonly grilled foods. Read “The Five Worst Foods to Grill” report. Grilling is particularly prone to forming carcinogens because the process involves two of the most important contributing factors: high heat and long cooking times.   

Processed meats: Consuming processed meats—including hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, and deli meats—is a key risk factor for colorectal cancer, according to a comprehensive report released in 2007 by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund. After reviewing 58 published studies on nutrition and cancer risk, AICR scientists concluded that processed meats increase one’s risk of colorectal cancer by an average of 21 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.

Dairy products: Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, are typically loaded with fat and cholesterol, and researchers are discovering that dairy products appear to play an important role in cancer risk. Dairy products have been shown to influence premenopausal breast cancer as well as prostate cancer. When humans drink cow’s milk, it causes biological changes in the body, including a rise in the amount of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the bloodstream. IGF-1 is a powerful stimulus for cancer cell growth. In addition, milk appears to interfere with the activation of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the digestive tract. It also protects the prostate against cancer.

Fiber: Diets high in fiber and low in fat help reduce the amount of estrogen circulating in the blood. Fiber is also important in preventing colon cancer, as it helps move food waste, extra hormones, and carcinogens out of the body. Fiber may even help the immune system function properly. Building a diet from fiber-rich plant foods is important for cancer prevention and survival, as well as overall health. Most Americans do not get enough fiber, and one key reason is that many commonly consumed dishes contain little or no fiber. On average, Americans currently consume only about half the recommended 35 grams to 40 grams of fiber per day.

Sodium: Diets high in sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease and kidney problems. Sodium intake should be limited to 2,400 milligrams per day. This is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt. Fast foods often contain large amounts of sodium.

Fruits and vegetables: Diets rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds found only in plants that have been shown to reduce inflammation and prevent the damage of free radicals circulating in the body. Free radicals cause cellular damage that eventually may lead to cancer.

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