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Understanding Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Supermarket Foods

Cancer is considered one of the big three diet and lifestyle diseases alongside heart disease and diabetes.  And one of the major causes of cancer, are the hidden chemicals in processed, packaged supermarket foods.

It's no coincidence that rates of cancer have been steadily rising over the past 50 years, as big food companies have profited from making their foods less nutritious, more colourful and more addictive.

This therefore means, if you care about your health (and avoiding cancer), you need to be aware of the hidden chemicals in super market foods.

Here, we reveal the most widely used chemical additives to watch out for when you shop, so that you can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer and other lifestyle diseases.

The Problem With Big Supermarkets

Unfortunately these days, over 90% of the foods you'll find on your supermarket shelf have some form of artificial chemical preservative or additive that can cause harm in the human body. 

Interestingly also, you may notice that these foods are merchandised in a certain way and condensed in the main aisles, to take advantage of the largest volume of customer foot traffic.  This is by design to maximise sales of the most profitable food products, which also happen to be the most processed and harmful to your health.

The additives and chemicals in these foods may only lead to mild inflammatory responses in your body in the beginning, in the form of ailments such skin blemishes and irritations, a lack of energy or digestive problems.

But over time and distance, the continued consumption of these foods, will burden your immune system and put you at risk of becoming a cancer or lifestyle disease statistic.

This is why it's really important know which foods and ingredients are carcinogenic i.e. potentially cancer-causing, so that you know what to avoid.

What is a Carcinogen?

A carcinogen is a substance that is known to cause or fuel cancer. 

Carcinogens can either trigger or promote cancer growth in a number of ways:

  • Disrupt hormones
  • Damage Cell DNA
  • Cause inflammation or;
  • Activate a genetic propensity to disease.

The larger and more frequent your exposure to carcinogens, the greater the likelihood that you will eventually end up with some form of cancer. 

Here are the main food categories and chemicals you should be aware of and consider limiting in your diet.

Processed Meats 

The World Health Organisation classifies processed meats including ham, bacon, salami, pepperoni, prosciutto and sausages, as "Group 1" carcinogens.

This means that there is strong evidence to suggest that these heavily processed foods cause cancer, particularly bowel and stomach cancer.  

One of the most harmful and common chemical preservatives used in processed meats, is sodium nitrate, used to preserve the colour of the product, to prevent fat oxidation or rancidity and to improve flavour.

These big problem with nitrates is they disrupt gut bacterial balance, damage the cells in the bowel and dramatically increase cancer risk if consumed regularly.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Partially hydrogenated oils, manufactured by heating and bubbling hydrogen into them through a process called "hydrogenation", are now well known as harmful to health due to their "trans fat" content. 

This "bad" fat has an inflammatory effect on the body and damages cell membranes making the oils highly carcinogenic, in addition to them triggering heart disease and autoimmune disorders.

Common Foods:

  • Margarine
  • Commercial Baked Goods
  • Fried Foods
  • Frosting
  • Microwave Popcorn

Natural & Safe Alternatives:

  • Organic Grass-Fed Butter
  • Cold-Pressed Olive Oil
  • Organic Avocado Oil
  • Raw Coconut Oil

Artificial Sweeteners & Flavour Enhancers

Because many manufactured food and drink products are laden with high amounts of processed sugar and chemicals, people's love of 'all things sweet' has become an addiction.

"Artificial Sweeteners" were developed to satisfy tastebuds without the associated calories, however sweeteners like Aspartame are actually neuro-toxins that can have many known degenerative effects on the brain.

Refined white sugar can also disrupt vital metabolic processes in the body, spikes insulin and over time, is a significant promoter of Diabetes and Cancer within the body.

Acesulfame Potassium

A common ingredient in several artificial sweetener products, this chemical is added in order to mask unpleasant aftertastes. Acesulfame can disrupt metabolic pathways and cause abnormal cell activity leading to an increased risk of leukaemia and several other types of cancer. 


Made up of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol, this chemical is actually hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Recent studies have shown that high levels of aspartame are associated with an elevated risk of cancers affecting the blood, such as lymphoma and leukaemia. 

Benzoate (Sodium Benzoate)

This chemical, when combined with certain others produces an artificial sweetener. By itself, it's often used as a food preservative and there is compelling evidence to suggest that in both forms it not only causes oxidative damage to the body but also lead to cell abnormalities and an increased chance of cancer developing.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Commonly used as a flavour enhancer preservative disguised under several different pseudonyms, this neurotoxin is associated with chronic inflammation, liver dysfunction and autoimmune disease, which can all be precursors to more serious issues including cancer.

Common Foods:

  • Diet soft drinks & energy drinks
  • "Sugar-free" foods
  • Protein supplement products
  • Sauces & Condiments
  • Certain dairy products
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Flavoured chips & crackers
  • Jams & spreads
  • Salad dressings 

Natural & Safe Alternatives:

  • Raw Organic Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Blackstrap Molasses
  • Organic Green Stevia
  • Sugar Cane Juice

Learn more in Overcoming Sugar Addictions & The Best Natural Substitutes

Artificial Colours

As a result of manufacturing and processing, food often loses not only much of its nutrients but also its natural colour.

Although not as widespread as it used to be thanks to many food manufacturers now using "natural colours" derived from vegetables, herbs and spices, artificial dyes can still be found in many common foods.

In addition to triggering ADHD symptoms and behavioural problems in children, studies have established links between synthetic food dyes and cancer, compelling enough to lead to many countries to ban them!

Here's a list of some of the most toxic colourings:

  • Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue)
  • Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine)
  • Green #3 (Fast Green)
  • Red #3 (Erythrosine)
  • Red #40 (Allura Red)
  • Yellow #5 (Tartrazine)
  • Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow) 

Common Foods:

  • Baked goods
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Confectionary 
  • Jellies
  • Soft drinks


The chemicals used on farms, produce and gardens is commonly referred to as "pesticides", which includes three distinct categories:

  • Fungicides - chemicals that kill fungus
  • Herbicides - chemicals that kill unwanted plants such as weeds
  • Pesticides - chemicals that kill insects or animals

They are basically all poisons and in addition to being toxic and harmful to the organisms they're designed to kill, they also have negative effects on humans.

In terms of pesticides used on food crops there are 5 common chemicals that have been identified as probable carcinogens:

  • Glyphosate
  • Malathion
  • Diazinon
  • Tetrachlorvinphos
  • Parathion

Common Sources:

  • Supermarket Produce
  • Factory-farmed meat products
  • Fast food 

Natural & Safe Alternatives:

  • Organically-Grown Fruit & Vegetables
  • Organic cafes, restaurants & health food stores

If you can't source organic produce, go to your local "Farmer's Markets" and buy locally grown, spray-free where possible. 

If you're unsure, simply prepare an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse by adding 1/2 cup to 2 litres of clean water and swish your produce in this solution for a few minutes before patting dry and storing. This will eliminate most if not all of the pesticide residue.


A byproduct of industry, fluoride is added to municipal water supplies in many cities around the world under the guise that it prevents dental cavities. Despite the fact this claim has been proven to be false, this highly toxic chemical can induce a number of health problems including cancer if ingested over time.

Fluoride affects the body by inhibiting the immune system's leukocytes and white blood cells as well as promoting the break down of collagen, which are all vital to preventing and fighting cancer and are all negatively impacted by fluoride.

Common Sources that may contain fluoride:

  • Tap Water
  • Soft Drinks
  • Sports Drinks
  • Toothpaste
  • Baby formula & foods

Natural & Safe Alternatives:

  • Natural Spring Water
  • Distilled Water
  • Organic Juices, Tea & Naturally Brewed Beer
  • Coconut Water


      Extracted from seaweed and processed using an alkaline procedure, this food additive void of any nutritional value serves to bind, thicken and stabilise many processed foods. In this alkaline state it's supposedly safe, but more acidic "degraded carrageenan" has been shown to be harmful to the gut and highly inflammatory and was recently classified as a potential human carcinogen.

      Unfortunately, this substance has found its way into many "health" foods and organic products.

      Common Foods:

      • Baby formula
      • Processed meats
      • Milk substitute products e.g. Commercial almond, rice & oat milks
      • Dairy products
      • Aloe vera juice & gel

      The Main Takeaway

      It is best to avoid packaged and processed foods wherever you can if you want to minimise your exposure to harmful cancer-causing chemicals.

      Of course, not all packaged foods are laced with unwanted additives and preservatives. For example, items like organic canned tomatoes, kidney beans, chickpeas and wholegrain rice, are packaged without chemicals and can easily form part of a healthy diet.

      The point is, when you steer clear of the chemical additives and preservatives found in most food products and processed animal products you'll find in your supermarket, you will avoid many of the problem ingredients that can eventually cause cancer.

      Then, by replacing these foods with with as much locally sourced, seasonal fresh produce as you can, you will not only look and feel better, you'll go a long way to boosting your overall health and longevity. 

      Tolman Self Care.


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