On the rare occasions when we allow ourselves to think about cancer and our risk in developing it, most of us resign ourselves to the fact that it is an inevitable consequence of genes and some habits such as smoking.
However, few of us take heed of the fact that a large proportion of cancers are entirely preventable by appropriate food, nutrition, physical activity and body fat. In fact, up to 67% of cancers of the mouth and throat, 75% of oesophageal (gullet) cancers, 40-45% of cancers of the stomach, pancreas, colon, large bowel and breast, 20% of cancers of prostate, liver and kidney cancers and 56% of cancers of womb are preventable by good nutrition and regular physical activity.
True, by now it should go without saying that smoking is a major risk factor for a large amount of cancers – it causes 90% of lung cancers and is implicated in many others. However quitting smoking is just one lifestyle factor that can reduce your risk.
But if there are thousands of websites, books and experts giving advice on how to prevent cancer through diet and lifestyle, then how can you know if you are taking the right advice?
Well the ‘bible’ on diet and cancer is an expert report prepared by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) that is endorsed by the World Health Organisation and several other renowned international bodies. It’s called ‘Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective’ and this expert report represents the cumulative efforts of 200 scientists who reviewed the evidence linking diet to 17 different forms of cancer. Half a million studies were reviewed and whittled down to the 7,000 most relevant scientific studies and are consolidated and rated in the report.
The 8 Key Recommendations are:
Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight. (Keep weight low within the healthy range)
Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. (Try to sit less and move more)
Limit consumption of energy dense foods and avoid sugary drinks. (Avoid high-calorie foods and sugary drinks)
Eat mostly foods of plant origin. (Eat more grains, veg, fruit and beans)
Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats.
Limit Alcohol. If consumed at all, limit to 2 drinks for men & 1 for women/day. (For cancer prevention, don’t drink alcohol)
Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt. (Eat less salt and avoid mouldy grains and cereals)
Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer. (For cancer prevention, don’t rely on supplements)
A more detailed explanation on these recommendations and specific guideposts to follow can be found on the report website.
It is very empowering to know that there are proven ways we can personally lower our risk in developing cancer. So now all we have to do is follow them!
Note: Thank you to Dr. Aoife Ryan Phd. Bsc, RD (School of Food & Nutritional Sciences, UCC) for her contributions to this article.
For more information on the great work by Breakhthrough Cancer Research visit www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie
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