As college students, it can be difficult to find the time to eat a good, healthy meal. It's so easy to grab whatever you find without really considering the impact food can have on your short and long-term health. Unfortunately, poor nutrition in college might come with a serious consequence: an increased risk of developing cancer. 

candy, chocolate, chips, milk, sweet, goody
Jennifer Cao

A new body of scientific research has correlated frequent consumption of foods with poor nutritional value to an increased rate of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the throat, stomach, and colon. 

Most of the foods commonly consumed by college students are often highly processed. Chicken nuggets, instant ramen, soda and, of course, microwave meals are all cheap and easy to make, so it's no wonder than college students gravitate towards them. However, a study published in the British Medical Journal has shown a correlation between an increase in processed food consumption and increased cancer development. 

"A 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10 percent in risks of overall and breast cancer," the study concluded. 

Getting proteins from red meats, which is often considered to be healthy, might also lead to an increased risk of developing cancer, according to researchers from Harvard University. 

meat, steak, beef, pork, barbecue, sausage, grill, fresh meat on grill
Shelby Cohron

Looking at data from 30 different studies on colorectal cancer, researchers found that consuming just two oz of red meat daily can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer by almost 20 percent.

"The exact mechanism [for the increased risk] is unclear, but it may be related to...the heme iron inherently found in red meat," says Dr. Edward Giovannucci of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Thankfully, there are several steps that you can take to make better choices and decrease your food-related cancer risks. 

The American Cancer Society recommends minimizing consumption of processed meats, as chemicals in them could accelerate cell division and lead to cancer, as well as cutting back on red meats. 

Another easy thing to do is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Although a majority of college-aged Americans don't consume enough fruits and vegetables, on-campus dining halls can provide students with easy access them; the vitamins and minerals in these foods have been shown to help protect cells from damage, which lowers the potential for cancer development

sweet, berry, blueberry
Jocelyn Hsu

Though it's not always easy (or cheap) to buy nutritious foods, there are still ways for college students to get the nutrition they need to protect themselves in the long-term. Our diet has a huge impact on our risks of developing cancer, and so it is important to start taking steps while we're young to protect ourselves.