cancer and processed foodsWe’ve known heavily processed foods are less healthy than raw foods for decades, but how much physical damage they can cause is only now truly beginning to be understood.

It’s not just that they’re full of fat, sodium, and preservatives – as it turns out, heavily processed foods are directly linked to cancer.

Even the so-called “healthy” alternatives in your frozen food or baking aisle aren’t really healthy.

In fact, it doesn’t matter which aisle you’re in. If you’re buying a heavily processed food, it can be linked to cancer.

The Difference Between Heavily Processed and Lightly Processed

The key to understanding the link between processed foods and cancer is understanding what we’re talking about. Because the truth is not all processing is bad for you.

The question is how processed is a food?

Technically, frozen vegetables and fruits have been processed. So have all-natural nut butters and ground whole grains. But they aren’t the processed foods that have been linked to cancer.

Heavily processed foods – the foods that hardly look like anything natural any longer – are the problems. “Fruit” juices that have more oil in them than fruit. Cured meats. Instant anything.

Unfortunately, some studies indicate that up to 90% of Americans’ diets consist of heavily processed foods, not the lightly processed ones.

Which means, statistically speaking, you’ve probably got a few carcinogens in your pantry.

Start with Cured Meats…

The link between heavily processed foods and cancer is back in the front of everyone’s collective conscious these days because of a recent WHO (World Health Organization) study that officially declared that processed meats cause cancer.

Hot dogs. Bacon. Jerky. Any meat that has been altered through salting, curing, fermenting, or smoking is considered a processed meat. Eat enough of them and the results are clear.

But the definitive nature of these results has started people asking deeper questions about the link between all heavily processed foods and cancer.

And Then Clean Out the Pantry

It’s estimated that half of all cancers – half – can be prevented just by making some behavioral and dietary changes. Like greatly reducing or eliminating all heavily processed foods.

Many of the cancers caused by processed foods are cancers of the digestive tract. And this makes sense if you think about it.

When you eat anything, your body processes and uses the nutrients for fuel. Once it’s gotten all the good stuff it needs, it moves the waste along.

But that part of the food – the part that will eventually be waste – the chemicals, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, anything your body can’t use – makes it way throughout your entire digestive tract, too, right along with the nutrients.

And then they’re the part that sit in the lower digestive tract until you can pass them through urine or a bowl movement.

Meaning they have the opportunity to contaminate and impact your entire system.

Identifying the Real Problem

One of the easiest ways to recognize a heavily processed food is to check the label. Look at the ingredients list. Can you pronounce all the words? Are they real food?

If the answer to both of those questions is yes, you probably have a lightly processed food on your hands. Feel free to enjoy it.

But if the answer to those questions is no, you need to be careful. Food coloring, emulsifiers, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and stabilizers have all been linked to cancer.

Refined carbohydrates (think white flour or white rice), refined sugars, and high fructose corn syrup have been linked to cancer, as well. And let’s not forget about hydrogenated oils, which are some of the unhealthiest ingredients you can put in your body.

Yet all of these are regularly used in highly processed foods to help them taste good, and look appetizing, while maintaining shelf or freezer stability.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the link between highly processed foods and cancer is no longer a mystery. It’s clear and definitive. But with this new knowledge, you can make better choices for you, you family, and your health.