Cancer is one of the leading causes of death. It’s also one of the most tragic and heart-breaking. Diet has a powerful role in the prevention of cancer, yet it remains extremely misunderstood. Today, I provide an evidence-based update of what you can do to avoid this mysterious and devastating disease.
A low fruit and vegetable intake is responsible for around 374 000 cancer deaths annually. Only 5.5% of Australians reach their daily intake of five serves of vegetables and two of fruit. Fruit and vegetables contain fibre and antioxidants which have a protective effect. The evidence is particularly strong for oesophageal, colorectal and gastric cancer.
Non-starch fruits and vegetables have the most protective effect. These are ones that contain less carbohydrate like beans, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and salad greens. Watermelon, berries, avocado and peach are low-starch fruits. To further boost your fibre also eat unprocessed cereals and legumes such as kidney beans and chickpeas.
A diet rich in plant-based foods reduces the risk of mouth, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, stomach and lung cancer. Tomatoes are an excellent choice as they also contain the phytonutrient lycopene which provides further protection. It’s recommended that you eat less than 500 grams of meat per week and very little processed meat. Meat has been shown to increase the risk of oesophageal, lung, pancreatic and stomach cancer.
Organic food won’t lower your cancer risk. Avoiding artificial sweeteners or drinking green tea to prevent cancer is also a fallacy. The term superfood is simply a marketing tool with little scientific basis. While a healthy balanced diet will prevent cancer no single food has the ability to really have an impact on its own. Vitamin and mineral supplements also lack evidence to support their use to prevent cancer.
Salt has been shown to be a probable cause of cancer. Processed foods are a major source. I recommend limiting your sodium intake to less than 6 grams per day. Energy dense foods such as fast and sugary foods should also be avoided as body fat produces hormones and inflammatory proteins that promote tumour cell growth. Being obese is the single biggest risk factor for cancer.
Soy products such as tofu and soy milk have been shown to reduce the risk of some hormonal cancers. Other foods that have been shown to prevent cancer are seeds, spices such as turmeric, nuts, olive oil, garlic and fish. The way you cook food makes a difference. Foods that are cooked at high temperatures may produce acrylamide. Fresh is always best.
Alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen which causes oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal, oesophageal, colorectal, liver, pancreatic and breast cancer. Alcohol consumption is responsible for 351 000 cancer deaths each year. Limit your daily alcohol to one standard drink if female or two for men and have more alcohol-free days than not per week.
Less than an a third of a person’s lifetime risk of getting cancer is attributed to uncontrollable factors. This means you have the power to control your environment -particularly your diet. Invest in the right type of foods and avoid a highly carcinogenic diet. Small changes over your lifetime will increase the quality and quantity of your years.