Medical research has proven that what you eat can influence your risk of cancer.
But the media often present medical facts in confusing or misleading ways. It seems every day there’s a new headline about what you should and shouldn’t eat. That would be good if the information wasn’t poorly researched or contradictory.
Over eight million people die every year from cancer. While survival rates are increasing, 50% of the population will get cancer at some stage in their lives.
With that level of risk, there’s little surprise that people are hungry for information that might help protect them against cancer. It’s important that such information is correct and up-to-date. But with so much noise in the media and online, how do you discern the facts from the fads?
The World Cancer Research Fund is a global scientific organization which operates the CUP, or Continuous Update Project. They analyze worldwide research on the effects of diet and exercise, cancer risk and survival. Annual updates are integrated into global guidelines on cancer prevention.
The latest CUP report claims cancer could be reduced by up to 35% if people will eat healthy diets, manage their weight, and take regular exercise.
Causes of Cancer
There are many theories about the causes of cancer.
Some research suggests links with hereditary factors. Other research points the finger at environmental pollution or industrial agricultural practices. These are all worthwhile lines of research. However, the main body of evidence points to lifestyle factors as the major contribution to the steady rise in cancer diagnoses.
The World Cancer Research Fund highlights three key areas of dietary concern. Fat, alcohol, and red meat consumption are the main factors. Changing your diet and enjoying at least 30 minutes of intentional exercise every day can decrease your cancer risk.
1. Fats Intake
Cancers of the bowel, liver, stomach, womb, and ovaries are all linked with clinical obesity. Being overweight alters hormone levels in the body.
Fat cells store estrogen and testosterone. When these hormones enter the blood, they circulate around the body. Continuous, excessive levels of these hormones may induce permanent inflammation and increase the risk of cancer.
Very few people are overweight due to genetic predisposition. Poor diet and lack of exercise are the major reasons you may store too much fat.
2. Alcohol Consumption
Consuming alcohol is linked to seven kinds of cancer. Perhaps most surprising of these is breast cancer.
There are over 250,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US each year. Of those, at least 30,000 relate to alcohol consumption.
Even moderate alcohol intake can lead to accumulating acetaldehyde. This is a toxic substance which damages DNA. The risk of several types of cancer goes up by 10% with every unit of alcohol consumed daily. That’s a high risk to run.
3. Red Meat Consumption
After cancer of the breasts, lung, and prostate, bowel cancer is the most common. While consuming red and processed meats increases the risk of several types of cancer, the strongest relationship is with bowel cancer.
Processed meats include any preserved by added chemicals, by salting, by curing, or by smoking. Reducing red and processed meat consumption to only 1 lb per week helps decrease associated cancer risks.
Research into the links between what you eat and cancer risk is ongoing. The scientific jury is still out on the influence of dairy products, for example.
There is significant evidence to suggest that high calcium consumption guards against many forms of cancer. Dairy products are most people’s main source of calcium intake and evidence suggests there may be links between dairy consumption and certain cancer types.
However, based on current research, moderate dairy consumption appears to do more good than harm as part of a balanced diet.
In the light of this evidence, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends four strategies for a healthy, nutritious diet which minimizes the risk of cancer.
These strategies relate to high-calorie carbohydrates, fresh plant foods, alcohol, and salt. Adjusting your diet according to these strategies will result in better health.
Strategies for Reducing Cancer Risk
High Caloric Foods and Carbohydrates
Reducing the amount of high-calorie food, processed products and refined sugar, tops the list of the World Cancer Research Fund’s anti-cancer recommendations.
Eating too many fast-release calories and sugars leads to weight gain, and weight gain increases cancer risk.
Other high-carbohydrate culprits to avoid are white flour, rice, and bread. Replace these with whole grain alternatives and ditch soda in favor of fruit juice or water.
Fresh Fruit, Whole Grains, Vegetables and Beans
Natural plant foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, good carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients.
17 recent scientific studies showed that regular consumption of garlic can reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
Filling up on healthy fruit, whole grains, vegetables and unprocessed beans, helps reduce your cancer risk.
The only sure way to end the risk of alcohol-related cancer is to stop drinking altogether.
If you can’t stop drinking, aim to reduce your intake to one small glass of wine or beer each day, or equivalent. If you are having difficulty controlling your drinking, seek professional medical advice.
Adding salt to your meals increases your blood pressure and is a high-risk factor for stomach cancer.
Try to wean yourself off the habit of sprinkling salt over everything you eat.
Many processed foods, including stock cubes, ready-made sauces, smoked meats and fish, are high in salt. Avoid these foods, together with reducing added salt on your normal meals, and you will help reduce blood pressure and cancer risk.
CPU publishes annual reports and makes new recommendations as the evidence accrues. However, there is enough evidence to guarantee the fundamental strategies suggested above will not change.
The links between diet, lifestyle, and cancer risk are undeniable. The changes you need to make to reduce the risks are straightforward, inexpensive, and achievable.