The American Cancer Society Says to Cut These 5 Things From Your Life

Revised guidelines on food and beverage intake say to cut these from your diet.

When it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices—particularly ones about your diet—it can be confusing to know which way to turn for advice. One expert might say that a certain food is the healthiest thing you can eat while an article you stumbled across online claims that food should be avoided at all costs. In addition, health and nutrition recommendations tend to change every few years, which doesn't make things any less murky. What we do know is that at least 18 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to excess body weight, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, which means they are preventable. That's why it's good to have a core source of information like the American Cancer Society (ACS) to tell you the things that can lower your cancer risk, as well as what can raise it.

Each year, the ACS releases the Diet and Physical Activity Guideline. Published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the 2020 guidelines feature key revisions to the food and beverage category, including the following five things you should cut out of your life to reduce your risk of cancer. And for things you shouldn't ignore when it comes to your health, check out These Are All the Cancer Warning Signs Hiding in Plain Sight.

Red and processed meats

a nice juicy steak is delicious, but it can also lead you to an early death.

While they previously recommended that you limit your intake of red meat and processed meat, the ACS now says to cut it out all together. Why? They found it clearly increases your risk of developing a variety of cancers. For example, your risk of colon cancer increases 23 percent with each additional serving (about two ounces) of processed meat and 22 percent per every additional three-ounce serving of red meat.

Instead, the ACS says to get your protein through fish, poultry, and beans. According to the ACS, this updated recommendation is, "in alignment with the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification in 2015 of processed meats as a carcinogen and red meat as a probable carcinogen." And for more on how what you eat affects your body, check out New Study Links Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise to Dementia.


Fresh beer filling the glass directly from the tap. With extra foam spilling over glass.

In prior years, the ACS said to limit daily alcohol consumption to one drink for women and two men. However, in 2020, their official recommendation is to avoid alcohol entirely—though the previous guideline remains applicable for men and women who continue to drink.

The reason for the update may have something to do with the fact that alcohol consumption is the third major modifiable cancer risk factor after tobacco use and being overweight. It is also an established cause of at least seven different types of cancer. Combined with all the other health and personal problems drinking can cause, the ACS says your best bet is to avoid it when you can, and consume it very moderately when you can't.

Sugar-sweetened beverages

sugary drinks, soda, stay lean

According to the ACS, "The factors most consistently associated with excess body fat include sugar‐sweetened beverages"—which include sodas, artificially flavored juices, and any other beverages with high amounts of added sugars. In fact, these added sugars are consistently associated with obesity, which is known to cause 13 different types of cancer. Even limited intake of these sugary drinks is not recommended, says the ACS. They recommend you switch to water and unsweetened beverages as replacements.

Highly processed foods

a variation of unhealthy snacks

You'll also want to steer clear of highly processed foods, which the ACS defines as, "industrially produced grain‐based desserts, ready‐to‐eat or ready‐to‐heat foods, snack foods, sugar‐sweetened beverages, candy, and other highly palatable foods that often do not resemble their original plant or animal source."

These foods tend to be higher in fat, added sugars, refined grains, and sodium, and have been linked to various health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Avoid them whenever possible, warns the ACS. And for cancer warning signs to watch out for, check out 20 Most Commonly Overlooked Cancer Symptoms, According to Doctors.

Refined grains

Three slices of white bread on white plate on wooden table, old-fashioned cleaning hacks

Refined grains are the result of taking whole grains and removing one or more of their three key parts (bran, germ, or endosperm), according to the Whole Grains Council. Once this occurs, a significant portion of the nutrients and protein is lost. Examples of refined grains include white bread, flour, and white rice. These types of grains are often ingredients found in highly processed foods, and just like those foods, they should be avoided whenever possible due to their ability to raise your risk of developing cancer, the ACS says. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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