Eating fish preserved in salt can cause cancer — the best life

While none of us are guaranteed impeccable health as we age, there are many things we can do to reduce our risk of developing serious chronic diseases. In particular, reducing your risk of cancer is one of the most important measures for a long and healthy life. A healthy diet is a key component of cancer prevention – along with quitting smoking and exercising. Now experts are naming certain foods that could put you at high risk of cancer, including fish cooked a certain way. Read on to learn which fish species is classified as a “Group 1 carcinogen” by the World Health Organization and why it increases your risk of cancer.

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Plate of processed meat
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Several types of meat are considered carcinogenic and have therefore been classified as “Group 1 carcinogens” by the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization has found “convincing evidence” that these foods and other substances cause cancer. Along with tobacco and asbestos, processed meats such as hot dogs, cured meats, beef jerky, and charcuterie fall into this category. These meats are associated with a higher rate of colon and stomach cancer.

Of only slightly less concern is red meat, which is classified as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning it is ‘probably’ carcinogenic to humans. “The strongest link between eating red meat and cancer is colon cancer, but there is also evidence of links to pancreatic and prostate cancer,” said medical experts on behalf of health insurance company Aetna.

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cooked salmon fillets on a black slate board
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A lean source of protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish is generally considered part of a healthy diet. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) says it may also help protect against cancer. “Research consistently shows that people who eat a moderate amount of seafood have a lower risk of cancer and other chronic diseases and live longer,” writes the AICR. “This could be due to other parts of the diet. For example, if you eat more fish for dinner, you may be eating less red and processed meat, which increases the risk of colon cancer,” the experts note.

In addition, eating a diet that includes fish has been linked to a lower rate of obesity. “Overweight and obesity are now associated with an increased risk of 10 cancers, including postmenopausal breast, liver and colon cancer,” says the AICR.

Salt fish with chili peppers

Although fish is generally associated with lower cancer rates, according to the WHO, fish prepared a certain way is believed to cause cancer in humans: fish preserved in salt.

“Salting is a traditional method of preserving food – particularly fish – that is widely used in Southeast Asia and China,” explain Aetna’s health experts. “Unfortunately, this preservation method results in the production of carcinogenic by-products, which means it can cause cancer in humans. Chinese-style salted fish is a Group 1 carcinogen, as is processed meat.”

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Close-up of doctor's hands while explaining to patient

Studies have shown a link between salted fish and cancer of the nasopharynx (located in the upper throat) and stomach. When it causes cancer in the nasopharynx, it is usually due to a reaction between nitrogen compounds in fish and nitrates and nitrites in the crude salt used to preserve it.

Meanwhile, most cases of stomach cancer start with damaged cells on the inner lining of the stomach. “Scientists believe that the increased risk of stomach cancer from salt-preserved foods is because they contain a large amount of salt, which permeates the foods during the preservation process. Experimental research has shown that salt damages the gastric mucosa and causes lesions that remain to develop, can become gastric cancer,” explains Stephanie FayMD, at the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRFI) website.

To lower your risk, reduce the amount of canned fish in your diet and limit your salt intake to less than five grams of salt daily, WHO says. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your risk of cancer or have questions about how this risk factor may be affecting you or your diet.

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