10 Common Foods That May Contain Cancer-Causing Substances

I remembered listening to a radio programme some weeks ago; a health consultant was discussing about the danger of eating ‘ponmo’. ‘Ponmo’ is the smoked skin of a cow; a very cheap alternative to red meat in Nigeria. He explained that studies have shown that smoked ‘ponmo’ contains cancer-causing substances known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and that it is safer not to consume it. When some listeners called in, I could sense the irritation in their voices. They were like “Oh no! What is wrong with ‘ponmo’ again?” They found that fact hard to believe and couldn’t imagine their delicacies without the ‘delicious’ smoked cow skins. Funny enough, I wasn’t surprised such reactions came from some listeners. I often experience such whenever I give my clients nutritional counseling too. However, ‘ponmo’ isn’t the only food that contains PAHs. There are several other foods which we commonly consume that contain PAHs too.


Naturally, some of these foods are known to be healthy; however because of the processing or cooking methods they have been put through, they have been made unhealthy. Although air can also be responsible for human exposure to PAHs through contact with the fumes of vehicle exhaust, coal or refuse and agricultural burning, breathing cigarette or tobacco smoke, however studies have shown that the highest PAH intake is typically associated with their occurrence in foods and that a large proportion of cancers in humans are linked to dietary factors. Smoking, roasting and grilling are some processing or cooking methods that can make foods unhealthy. They expose foods directly to smoke or extremely high temperature bringing about high concentration of PAHs in such foods. Thus, these foods become potential sources of PAHs and their consumption poses health risks. Below are 10 foods that have been roasted, grilled or smoked and can be potential sources of PAHs:

1. Grilled or barbecued meats


2. Grilled or barbecued fish


3. Roasted corn


4. Roasted plantain


5. Roasted yam


6. Roasted groundnut

7. Smoked fish

8. Smoked/roasted meat

9. Plantain fried under high temperature


10. Smoked cow skin (Ponmo)

 PAHs can spread through the body and target fatty tissues and organs such as the kidney and the liver. PAHs have been linked to tumors, reproductive problems, birth defects, and damage to the skin, body fluid and immune system. Therefore, avoid cooking foods under high temperature, limit intakes of foods processed/cooked through methods mentioned above and prevent foods from getting burnt. 

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Hafsah Babatunde is a nutritionist, writer, poet, blogger and a social entrepreneur. She values good health and loves to share healthy tips for healthy living. With a passion for the pen, she believes ideas can be shared to make a difference and to create positive impact on many lives

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