If your childhood was anything like mine, you grew up eating cheesy macaroni with hamburger in it, chicken nuggets, pizza rolls, and basically anything that was quick, cheap and easy. Sometimes my older brother would make a Clint Special (cereal with ice cream in place of milk) for breakfast, so of course I had to make a Clint Special too. For lunch I probably had the choice of that awful school pizza with a layer of grease sitting on the cheese. For dinner it was most likely something quick and fried. At the time, I didn't have a problem with my dietary habits; it's what my mom made, because her mom made it, so it had to be good for me, right?

It turns out that cheap, quick, easy and from a box isn't so great for us, who'd have thought?

It's specifically foods from a box or plastic package that have been deemed a group 1 carcinogen by the American Cancer Society, where a carcinogen is defined as substances and exposures that can lead to cancer. However, out of the 5 groups listed, a group 1 carcinogen is considered the most dangerous of all, and has been tested in multiple lab studies and found to be carcinogenic to humans. 

Take a quick visit to cancer.org and you'll find a list of group 1 carcinogens labeled as Known Human Carcinogens. As you skim the list you'll read through many substances that are a no-brainer as to whether you should stay away from them or not - they simply sound scary. What may come as a shock is that right between polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) and radioiodines is (the consumption of) processed meat. 

fish, meat, seafood, pork
Jocelyn Hsu

If this is news to you then many questions will run through your mind, as they did mine. Why wasn't this blown up so globally that the whole world knew the risks we were taking by ordering a chicken club, a foot-long deli sub, or a hot dog at the baseball field? What's in a hot dog anyway, does anyone know? So you mean to tell me that for years I've been eating something that's ranked as equally dangerous as exposure to plutonium and asbestos? I've essentially been feeding little kids solar radiation for snack time? Unfortunately, it doesn't end there; under group 2A (Probably Carcinogenic to Humans) you'll find that the consumption of red meat has made the list. 

meat, pork, beef, sausage, bacon
Andrea Leelike

I strongly advise everyone to know the list well, for their own health as well as the health of their family. It should also be known that many other studies have been preformed, finding various compounds in animal-based foods to be strongly correlated to the development of cancerous tumors. One familiar example is casein, the main protein structure found in dairy.

Dr. Campbell produced many studies with his colleagues, one of which was focused on various amounts of protein (from casein) in several groups of mice, and the affect the diet had on whether they developed cancerous tumors or not. The mice consuming a diet of 20% casein had rapid cancer growth, but once their diets were switched to 5%, the cancer growth also declined. Dr. Campbell tested varying protein levels with soy and wheat protein as well, but found that there was only a positive correlation with the milk protein, casein.

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell: "Using traditional science practice, we should be concluding that casein is a chemical carcinogen, perhaps the most relevant carcinogen that we consume."

milk, yogurt, cream, dairy
Aakanksha Joshi

My own adoption of a healthier, plant-based diet was largely attributed to Nathan Pritikin, an engineer who reversed his own heart disease with a plant-based diet, and then went on to perform studies on how cancer cells placed in petri dishes reacted when the blood of 3 groups following different diets was dripped into the separate dishes. The blood of someone who had been following a strictly plant-based diet for only two weeks, had 8 times the cancer killing properties of any of the other groups. He also concluded that the longer they followed a plant-based diet, the more powerful their blood became in stopping cancer cell growth. 

In recent years there's been documentaries, various disease and diet related articles, and even a handful of doctors question why major companies still produce, let alone recommend, these foods that have been linked to cancer development. Surely a great nation like the United States couldn't be more fixated on the profits from billion-dollar industries than the health of its citizens - a conversation for another time, perhaps.

I know, I know, shame on me for pulling back the heavy red, white and blue curtain and potentially ruining that chicken sandwich you were going to have for lunch. I was initially just as disturbed as you are by these nutritional studies and their findings, which is why I modified my own dietary choices. After all, isn't life short enough without taking in long whiffs of asbestos-ridden houses or chowing down on a carcinogen sandwich?

So What Now?

Don't fall victim to the "Cheap and Easy" that is so strongly pushed on us consumers. However, if you do decide to have your chicken and eat it too, then you do you, but you should do it in moderation. Focus on positive adjustments to your diet, like finally fitting in those 5 (or more) servings of fruits and vegetables, hitting your 4 liters of water a day, and eating more fiber from whole, plant-based sources. You can even do all of this without breaking the bank by checking out my $25 grocery list and recipe ideas!

tacos, vegetable, chili, bread, tomato, lettuce
Katherine Baker

A few quick questions to ask yourself when shuffling through studies: look for who was conducting the study - was it a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, a group of doctors with a background in nutrition, or someone whose qualifications for this particular job are questionable? Is this study funded by a producer of what is being tested? If so, exit out quickly, go, go, go! Is this study on a trusted site? Think pubmed.org or a credible university research institution, when doing your own reading.

Some places to begin if you want more information: The China Study (a book of the largest nutritional studies to date) by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, nutritionfacts.org, The World's Healthiest Foods, and How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger,