How Our Modern American Diet Fuels Our Risk of Cancer

The typical American diet features processed food products, high intakes of red and processed meats, sugary foods and beverages and limited fresh organically grown produce – all which contribute to increased cancer risks. This diet pattern has become notorious not only due to its abundance but also due to the links it may hold with increased cancer risks.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60% of the American diet comes from processed foods.
  • The average American consumes over 100 lbs. of sugar annually. The U.S. is the biggest consumer of sugar on the globe with a whopping per capita sugar consumption of 126.4 grams daily – 10X the lowest recommended intake of 11 grams per day (World Population Review, Sugar Consumption by Country 2024).
  • Are you the only one eating fresh vegetables every day? According to the CDC, ninety percent (or 9 out of 10) Americans are not eating enough fresh produce.

And we wonder why cancer, second only to heart disease, is a problem?

2024 Cancer Statistics

The American Cancer Society predicts over 2 million new cancer cases and approximately 611,720 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2024. This amounts to a whopping 1,680 deaths per day if these projections are correct. Their annual report states that the risk of getting cancer is “increased by certain behaviors and other modifiable factors, such as smoking, having excess body weight, drinking alcohol, and eating an unhealthy diet.”

Cancer isn’t cheap. Cancer treatment costs can be expensive; according to one report, total estimated patient costs were estimated at $21.1 billion with out-of-pocket expenses totaling $16.2 billion and patient time costs totaling $4.9 billion (travel costs related to treatment or waiting for care being part of this estimate). These costs can create severe financial strain and delay taking precautionary steps necessary in combatting your disease until later stages are diagnosed, when treatments tend to become costlier, more involved and less successful than earlier diagnosis.

That’s why we here at the Templeton Wellness Foundation want to provide as many “tools” as possible to help you avoid being just another SAD statistic.

The Role of Diet in Cancer Prevention

Cancer can be (1) expensive to treat; (2) its incidence rates rank second only to heart disease; and (3) diet plays a key role in one’s cancer risk. Therefore, paying close attention to what we put on our fork or receive through a drive-thru is vitally important for health. The bottom line: what we consume day-after-day plays a pivotal role in whether or not we hear those three dreaded words: “You have cancer.”

According to Medical News Today: “Studies link about 42% of cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in the United States to risk factors that people may be able to change, such as overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet.

Let’s take a look at our Standard American Diet (SAD). Never has a diet deserved its anacronym more than this one. Here’s how our modern dietary regime might be paving a path to increased cancer incidence:

  1. Caloric Excess and Nutrient Scarcity. The Standard American Diet has earned its bad reputation due to its high caloric intake and limited nutritional value. Foods found at the core of this diet, such as fast foods, sweets, and other highly processed products contribute an excessive calorie intake without providing essential nutrients. This leads to weight gain and obesity – two risk factors identified by World Health Organization as risk factors for cancer (including breast, colon, and endometrial). Having excess insulin as well as IGF-1 will boost tumor development as they promote cell growth.
  2. Exposure to Carcinogens. Americans love their sausage, bacon, hotdogs, bologna and other highly processed meats; unfortunately they’re killing us. According to Dr. Roxanne Becker of the Health and Nutrition Advocacy Nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: “Processed meat has been classified by the World Health Organization since 2015 as a Group 1 carcinogen; yet bacon and hot dogs continue being served at hospitals and schools; we must do better.” Some experts advocate adding warning labels on these highly processed products much like tobacco products do.”
  3. Promotion of Chronic Inflammation. A diet high in trans fats, common among Western diets, can promote chronic inflammation throughout the body and is one of the key contributing factors in cancer development – leading to DNA damage and mutation. Furthermore, lack of anti-inflammatory compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and fish compounds only worsen this situation by offering less natural defense against processes which promote tumor growth and proliferation.
  4. Hormonal Imbalances. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are prevalent in processed food packaging materials and many processed food itself, often featuring phthalates or bisphenol A (BPA). EDCs such as these mimic or interfere with natural hormones found within our bodies such as estrogens and androgens causing imbalances that increase risk for cancers such as breast and prostate cancers in both women and men.
  5. Antioxidant Deficiency. Antioxidants play an essential role in protecting cells against oxidative stress caused by free radicals and these amazing compounds are found in many of the fruits and vegetables that are there for the taking. A diet lacking these powerful plants rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids provides inadequate protection from this cellular damage. Over time this may accumulate into mutations of DNA leading to cancer development.
  6. Imbalance of Gut Microbiota. Recent research highlights the critical role that gut microbiota plays in maintaining metabolic and immune health. Diets high in sugar and fat may negatively influence gut microbiota composition; this dysbiosis results in an imbalance of essential bacteria species required for digestion and immune functioning resulting in inflammation, reduced control over pathogens, altered metabolism of bile acids and other substances which increase cancer risks- particularly colorectal cancer risk.

What Can You Do?

I would urge you not to wait another minute. Take stock of your daily diet. Think about the ways you could improve your diet. Make some simple substitutions… as often as you can. Always opt for organically grown produce when possible. Yes, organically grown produce might cost a little more in the short term, but the long-term advantages will far outshine the high cost of cancer.

And check out the plethora of FREE information available here on the Templeton Wellness Foundation website.
You’ll find valuable articles like:

  • “Fighting Cancer With Your Grocery Cart.” You’re tired, you’re hungry, and you just want to find something to eat. With today’s busy lifestyles, it’s easy to prioritize convenience over nutrition when shopping for groceries. But when you realize that food quality plays a critical role in your overall health – particularly if you’re a cancer patient – or shopping for one – it only makes sense to plan ahead and shop accordingly.
  • “Macrobiotic Diet Secrets.” Check out my video interview with one of the foremost experts on macrobiotics in the world today. Steven Acuff studied with macrobiotic author and lecturer Michio Kushi, who is credited with introducing macrobiotics to the U.S.
  • “Thomas Seyfried: The Diet That Starves Cancer,” Dr. Seyfried, PhD, Professor of Biology at Boston College, has been singing the praises of an ancestral diet for treating the modern disease of cancer for years. His theory that cancer is a metabolic disease sounds almost too simplistic, and yet makes perfect sense when you understand what drives cancer’s growth. He addresses the modern standard of care: the “cut and burn” method and its miserable success record.

…and much more information freely provided by The Templeton Wellness Foundation.

The bottom line is that there IS something you can do TODAY – the very next time you sit down to a meal — to decrease your risk of cancer. One of the best and least expensive things you can do to help yourself is to understand, identify, and monitor the food at the end of your fork. Ask yourself if it’s worth it? What can you change? What are you willing to trade for your health?

I always recommend cooking at home where you can control the ingredients of each dish you prepare. But when you’re out and about and need to find a healthy place to dine, please check out The Templeton List, a guide to the healthiest restaurants in America. It’s a labor of love, with my team of dedicated researchers who have vetted thousands of restaurants in the country. Check it out at:


American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2024. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2024.

Lee SH, Moore LV, Park S, Harris DM, Blanck HM. Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:1–9. DOI:

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Matsushita M, Fujita K, Nonomura N. Influence of Diet and Nutrition on Prostate Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb 20;21(4):1447. doi: 10.3390/ijms21041447. PMID: 32093338; PMCID: PMC7073095.

Arima K, Zhong R, Ugai T, Zhao M, Haruki K, Akimoto N, Lau MC, Okadome K, Mehta RS, Väyrynen JP, Kishikawa J, Twombly TS, Shi S, Fujiyoshi K, Kosumi K, Ogata Y, Baba H, Wang F, Wu K, Song M, Zhang X, Fuchs CS, Sears CL, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL, Meyerhardt JA, Garrett WS, Huttenhower C, Chan AT, Nowak JA, Giannakis M, Ogino S. Western-Style Diet, pks Island-Carrying Escherichia coli, and Colorectal Cancer: Analyses From Two Large Prospective Cohort Studies. Gastroenterology. 2022 Oct;163(4):862-874. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2022.06.054. Epub 2022 Jun 24. PMID: 35760086; PMCID: PMC9509428.

Mann S DO, Sidhu M DO, Gowin K DO. Understanding the Mechanisms of Diet and Outcomes in Colon, Prostate, and Breast Cancer; Malignant Gliomas; and Cancer Patients on Immunotherapy. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 26;12(8):2226. doi: 10.3390/nu12082226. PMID: 32722632; PMCID: PMC7468768.

Clemente-Suárez VJ, Beltrán-Velasco AI, Redondo-Flórez L, Martín-Rodríguez A, Tornero-Aguilera JF. Global Impacts of Western Diet and Its Effects on Metabolism and Health: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2023 Jun 14;15(12):2749. doi: 10.3390/nu15122749. PMID: 37375654; PMCID: PMC10302286.

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