Load your plate with plant foods to help fight cancer
Up to a third of all cancers could be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. At the start of Cancer Prevention Week, Lisa Cooney, head of education at the World Cancer Research Fund, examines how what we eat and drink affects our cancer risk
IT HAS become increasingly clear over the past few years that lifestyle is an important factor for cancer risk.
Scientists now believe that about a third of cancers could be prevented just through healthy eating, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.
So what do we mean by a healthy diet? Well, in simple terms, we are talking about eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, limiting our intake of alcohol, red meat and salt, and trying to make sure when it comes to meals, about two thirds of our plate is filled with plant foods.
This is the same sort of healthy eating advice you will have heard before, and the good news is that the kind of diet that will help you reduce your cancer risk can also help prevent other chronic diseases as well.
When it comes to vegetables and fruits, we recommend that people aim to eat at least five portions a day. This is because eating vegetables and fruits probably protects against cancers of the mouth and throat, oesophagus and stomach.
Fruits probably protect against lung cancer as well, and various vegetables protect against other cancers. For example, garlic probably protects against bowel cancer, and foods containing the antioxidant lycopene – processed tomatoes, for example –probably protect against prostate cancer.
Researchers are continuing to study how vegetables and fruits protect us against cancer. Through laboratory studies, they have discovered that plants contain substances called phytochemicals that can prevent or interrupt cancer processes in many ways.
Some phytochemicals prevent cancer-causing substances from becoming active, others help to prevent cells in the body from becoming damaged, and some can trigger the “suicide” of cancer cells.
While we recommend eating more plant foods, this doesn’t mean you have to give up meat altogether. No evidence connects fish or lean poultry to increased cancer risk, and adding a portion to your meal will supply beneficial nutrients and extra taste.
But with red meat, however, there is convincing evidence that eating too much beef, lamb and pork increases your chances of developing bowel cancer. This is why we recommend you shouldn’t eat more than 500g (cooked weight) of lean red meat each week – this is about 700g to 750g of raw weight.
The evidence linking processed meat and bowel cancer is even stronger, so it is best to avoid it. Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding other chemical preservatives, and includes bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and some sausages.
It is not yet clear exactly what it is in processed meats that increases cancer risk but until the answer is found, try to avoid eating them.
We also recommend that you limit salt to 6g per day. This is because as well as increasing risk of high blood pressure, it is also probably a cause of stomach cancer.
Try to avoid salt-preserved, salted or salty foods. More than 80% of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods – we are not always aware that these foods are high in salt because they may not taste salty. Watch out for breakfast cereals, bread, ready meals, pizzas, soups, crisps and sauces. Even sweet foods like biscuits can contain high levels of salt.
With alcohol, there is convincing evidence that alcoholic drinks cause several types of cancer. This is why we recommend that if you drink at all, you should limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
We also recommend that people limit their consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks. While they do not increase cancer risk in themselves, they can increase your chances of becoming overweight.
This is important from a cancer prevention perspective because, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things you can do for cancer prevention. This is because there is convincing evidence that excess body fat is a cause of six different types of cancer, including bowel cancer and post-menopausal breast cancer.
At World Cancer Research Fund, we think it is a really positive message that people can do something today that can make a difference to their risk of developing cancer. And people should remember that it is not a case of all or nothing. Even making small changes in the right direction can make a real difference.
source: Western Mail, Wales, U.K