market display of apples, eggplants, peppers, grapes, green beans, risk of cancer, dirty dozen, better memory

A new study published in JAMA Oncology reports that pro-inflammatory foods increase the risk of colorectal cancer. An anti-inflammatory diet, on the other hand, reduces the risk of cancer (Tabung et al, JAMA Oncology, online, Jan. 18, 2018).

How Did They Study the Effect of Diet on the Risk of Cancer?

The investigators reviewed dietary data from 46,804 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and 74,246 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. These individuals were tracked for more than two decades. They all filled out detailed questionnaires about their dietary habits every few years.

Diet and Inflammation:

The higher the inflammatory potential of the foods eaten, the greater the risk of developing colorectal cancer in both men and women. Foods considered pro-inflammatory included processed meat, red meat, organ meat, refined grains, carbonated beverages with sugar, fruit drinks and tomatoes. Foods that were considered anti-inflammatory included dark yellow vegetables like carrots and squash, green leafy vegetables, fruit juice, beer, wine, tea and coffee.

The authors conclude that inflammation is a factor in the development of colorectal cancer and that anti-inflammatory foods could be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer, especially among overweight men and lean women.

What About Turmeric?

Spices may also help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer. Researchers also reported that both turmeric and its active component curcumin exhibit activity against colorectal cancer cells (Prasad et al, Frontiers in Pharmacology, online, Dec. 12, 2017). Notably, even curcumin-free turmeric was active against these cells. This anti-tumor effect is thought to be mediated in part by blocking inflammation-induced carcinogenesis.

Learn More:

If you would like recipes to help you build a more anti-inflammatory diet, you may find our book, Recipes & Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy, of interest. It contains tasty recipes from some of the country’s leading nutrition scientists.

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  1. John
    Croydon, PA

    Thank you for alerting me that raw tomatoes are inflammatory. I read that tomato paste, which is cooked, is a better source of lycopene, and is not inflammatory. So, I will be eating my tomatoes cooked.

  2. Donna

    ” anti-inflammatory foods could be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer, especially among overweight men and lean women.” – why overweight men and lean women? Would like to know the reasoning behind this, how it works.

  3. Damita

    Again, try eating this way on a budget.

  4. Jaye

    “Foods considered pro-inflammatory included processed meat, red meat, organ meat, refined grains, carbonated beverages with sugar, fruit drinks and …TOMATOES” ?????
    Last I heard is that tomatoes are a good anti-inflammatory. Is this new news, or an editing glitch?

    • Damita

      Some people need meat protein. A one size fits all diet is not realistic. Yes, avoid too many processed foods but some of us have to rely on lean cuisine and smart ones, as well as other frozen meals because we cannot cook in our homes. Then that awful alternative of meals on wheels is sent to us. Someone should start a healthy meal program with healthy foods for seniors and disabled with well prepared healthy fresh and frozen meals. That would be great.

  5. Ken

    Did you mean to include tomatoes in the inflammatory list along with soda? Really?

  6. terry

    This information can be very misleading. What ever happened to measurements? Saying it “increases” the risks has no quantitative merit unless the author is going to share the specific data. Does it increase the risk by .01% or by 10%……huge difference, but both can be described as “increases” the risk. These articles prey on the drama to get people to read and make money off the advertisements on the sides. Unless you are going to quote statistics, these drama enhanced posting are worthless.

    • Terry Graedon

      Here are the statistics, available in the publication (
      Men in the lowest quartile of dietary inflammation had a rate of colorectal cancer of 113 per 100,000 man-years. Those in the highest quartile had a rate of 151 per 100,000 man-years. That’s an absolute difference of 38 per 100,000 man-years. (The women’s rates were a bit lower.)
      That’s really not huge, but the percentage increase (38/151) is 34% so a lot more than .01%.

  7. Tess

    Before your article I have only read that tomatoes are anti inflammatory and include plenty in my family diet. How could tomatoes be lumped in with processed meat, sugar sweetened drinks, etc. as causing inflammation?

    • Ann
      Richmond, VA

      Try searching term night shade plants which “supposedly” can cause inflammation. The 2 I remember on the list are tomatoes and eggplant. I think this theory is kind of up in the air or maybe it doesn’t cause inflammation for everyone. I haven’t researched it for a few years. 2/1/18

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