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Purge Your Pantry

By on May 15, 2018
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Why take away something that tastes great, has an amazing shelf-life and could potentially save you from a zombie apocalypse?

Diet and lifestyle are key controllable factors that can reduce risk for cancer down the road. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 45% of Canadian women and 49% of Canadian men will develop cancer during their lifetimes.

Sadly, the risk for cancer only increases with age, which means we need to pay greater attention to our everyday habits and what we keep in our cupboards.

Salty, Preserved Foods
Non-perishable foods are great for a rainy day, but not when they’re laden with high amounts of salt. High intakes of salty preserved foods may pose a risk for stomach cancer. Scientists from Japan and Korea have discovered that salt can damage the stomach lining and cause lesions, which if left untreated, could become stomach cancer. Helicobacter pylori (commonly known in the medical world as H. pylori) could also develop from the untreated lesion and cause cancer. At this point, the research is preliminary.

However, there is no harm in reducing your sodium intake for other beneficial health reasons. Those include reducing your blood pressure for better heart, renal, and diabetic health! But, if you’re adamant on sticking to your beloved non-perishables, choose those preserved with less salt, or ones kept in water or vegetable oil. For example, many canned vegetables, fish, poultry, meats and alternative protein products today are reformulated to have lower sodium levels and are now preserved using aseptic packaging methods.

If you are not sure what is considered a low sodium product, look at the ingredients list. If salt is listed as the second or third ingredient, then chances are you have a higher sodium product.

Another strategy is to use the Nutrition Facts panel to your advantage and look for 5% or less of your Daily Value (DV) per serving from sodium. Although the DV is a good starting point, a better method would be to count the actual amount of sodium you consume using the listed milligrams from the nutrition facts panel. The reason for this is you may eat more than one serving, in which case, your DV would not be an accurate reflection of intake. Front-of-pack nutrition labels can also provide helpful hints when searching for a better product. Where possible, go for items advertised as: free of sodium or salt, low in sodium or salt, or no added sodium or salt.

Another suggestion when choosing the best food product is to do what you might do when you’re shopping for clothes and make-up on a budget – to look for great dupes. In this case, we want healthy dupes! Products like canned vegetables could be easily replaced with flash-frozen vegetables. Herb-seasoned, frozen fish filets are a good dupe for regular canned fish. For all canned products, always try to choose the sodium reduced version if the option is there. Keep in mind the 2,300 mg (6 g or 1 tsp) recommended sodium limit per day.

Processed Meats
Studies have found a correlation between high red meat and processed meat consumption with an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Shelf and fridge-stable meats like corned beef, cured ham, salami, pepperoni, and canned sausages are some of the most popular processed meats found in households.

Other than the high sodium content within these foods, preservatives like nitrites (scientifically known as sodium nitrite) may also exist. Sodium nitrite itself is a salt and an anti-oxidant. It is used to ensure food safety and to maintain the meat product’s aesthetic appeal. Nitrites contribute to the pinkish colour of cured meats, create a distinct flavour profile, and control the shelf-life of the product. It also acts as an antimicrobial agent against Clostridium botulinum (commonly known as botulism). According to several research studies, nitrites can promote cancer growth. Therefore, portion size and the frequency of consumption of these products should be considered. Where possible, opt for fresh or minimally processed meats to get the most nutritional benefit.

Artificial Sweeteners
A few animal studies have found possible links between high intakes of artificial sweeteners (e.g. saccharin, aspartame, sucralose) and cancer. However, subsequent follow-up studies did not provide very clear evidence that artificial sweeteners were associated with cancer in humans. More randomized controlled trials with human subjects are needed to verify these mixed findings. Typically, with sweetener consumption, the average person does not exceed toxic levels.

Dried Seafood Products
Seafood harvested from waters contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins may have been used to produce your favorite seafood products and snacks. These two toxic chemicals are known to cause carcinogenesis (the initiation of cancer development in cells) based on past human studies. The presence of dioxins was found in multiple animal studies to cause liver, thyroid, upper aerodigestive tract and skin tumors, and cause lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in human studies. When unsure, always get into the habit of doing your research to find out what’s in your food.

Foods Packaged with BPA-Containing Materials
Among the concerns with food products today is the packaging it comes in. Bisphenol A (a.k.a. BPA) is traditionally used to line cans and plastic bottles to prevent corrosion and deterioration, while upholding food quality. However, even having low levels of BPA in one’s system has been associated with adverse health effects. Studies have found BPA’s link to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and endocrine-related disruptions on the body, including female and male infertility.

Luckily, a growing number of manufacturers today are storing food products in BPA-free cans, bottles and containers. Often, “BPA-free” is listed on the product label or on the manufacturer’s website. If this information is not available, exercise your right to contact the organization to inquire.

1. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2017). Chronic diseases: Cancer. Retrieved from www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/cancer

2. World Cancer Research Fund International. (2016). Salt: Shaking up the link with stomach cancer. Retrieved from www.wcrf.org/int/blog/articles/2016/04/salt-shaking-link-stomach-cancer

3. Cancer Council. (2015). Salt and cancer. Retrieved from www.cancercouncil.com.au/2459/cancer-prevention/diet-exercise/nutrition-diet/fruit-vegetables/salt-and-cancer-2/

4. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2016). Sodium (salt) claims. Retrieved from www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/nutrient-content/specific-claim-requirements

5. EatRight Ontario. (2017). Lowering your risk of cancer: What about specific foods? Retrieved from www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Cancer-/Lowering-your-Risk-of-Cancer-What-about-Specific.aspx

6. Canadian Meat Council. (2018). Nitrite in cured meat products. Retrieved from www.cmc-cvc.com/en/nutrition-health/nitrite-cured-meat-products

7. WebMD. (2017). The facts about bisphenol A. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/children/bpa#1

8. Breastcancer.org. (2018). Exposure to chemicals in plastic. Retrieved from www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/plastic

9. National Cancer Institute. (2016). Artificial sweeteners and cancer. Retrieved from www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/artificial-sweeteners-fact-sheet#q1

10. Cancer Investigation. (2009). Carcinogenic food contaminants. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2782753/#

11. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (2016). Retrieved from www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=30&po=10

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Rosanna Lee, RD, MS, MHSc, PHEc. is a Canadian and USA trained registered dietitian, professional home economist and health communications specialist currently practicing in Toronto. Her diverse interests include community nutrition education, public health advocacy, research, cooking, social entrepreneurship, media and social media, and mobile application technologies. Get in touch with Rosanna via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosanna-lee-1b379b23

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