Health Topics » Cancer » Some Color is Okay   Login


March 2012
Some Color is Okay
Dr Sankar Srinivasan
Commercially prepared foods have a number of additives to make them look tempting and give added taste. Not all additives are bad, some of them prevent food from spoiling and help in keeping us healthy, an example of such lies with additives present in peanuts.

A toxin called aflatoxin that comes from a mould grows on stored food in hot and humid countries, especially on peanuts. Aflatoxin is known to cause liver cancer so any preservative that stops the mould from getting into the nuts is helping in preventing cancer

  • Most additives do not pose a cancer risk. Colours, flavours and sweeteners are constantly investigated by researchers and if any are thought to be a real risk, they are withdrawn.
  • Some years ago saccharin was claimed to be a carcinogen. Researchers found that when it was fed to rats in huge quantities, the rates of cancer in the rats increased. However, we are unlikely to eat that much saccharin and therefore are quite safe from it. Moreover, far fewer foods contain it now than did a few years ago.
  • A popular preserved item that increases cancer risk is pickled food. Pickled foods may increase risk of stomach cancer, particularly if they are very salty. This may explain why there are such high rates of stomach cancer in Japan, where salty, pickled foods are popular.
  • Among other food additives, aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Current evidence does not show any link between aspartame use and increased cancer risk.
  • Many substances are added to foods to preserve them and to enhance colour, flavour, and texture. Rigorous testing in animals to look for any effects on cancer is done as part of this process. Additives are usually present in very small quantities in food, and no convincing evidence has shown that any additive at these levels causes human cancers.
Do irradiated foods cause cancer?
No. Radiation is used more often to kill harmful organisms in foods in order to extend their “shelf life.” Radiation does not stay in the foods after treatment, and eating irradiated foods does not appear to increase cancer risk.

Do pesticides in foods cause cancer?
At present there is no evidence that residues of pesticides and herbicides in low doses found in foods increase the risk of cancer, but fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating

A Healthy Diet
Apart from obesity and alcohol, there isn’t much specific evidence at the moment that diet can reduce cancer risk. But a healthy diet may help and it will also lower your risk of other diseases, such as heart disease. To eat healthily:
  • Eat less meat and animal fats (butter, cream, cheese)
  • Eat five portions of raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables every day
  • Eat more fibre
  • Eat more oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel) t Eat less salt and salty foods
  • Eat less sugar and sugary foods
  • Eat more whole-grain cereals, bread, pasta and rice
  • Don’t fry foods and if you use fats in cooking, choose vegetable oils or olive oil, not lard or butter
  • Drink less alcohol
Does sugar increase cancer risk?
Sugar increases calorie intake without providing any of the nutrients that reduce cancer risk. By promoting obesity and elevating insulin levels, high sugar intake may indirectly increase cancer risk. White (refined) sugar is no different from brown (unrefined) sugar or honey with regard to their effects on body weight or insulin.
Dr Sankar Srinivasan is Consultant Medical Oncologist Apollo Hospitals, Chennai

 Also See