What if up to one third of common cancers could be prevented? Much of our cancer risk can be managed, with an estimated 30% of the most common cancers that could be prevented through diet and weight management, as well as physical activity.
In the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study on more than half a million participants in 11 European countries, the relationship between diet, lifestyle and other environmental factors were studied.
From this, scientists have outlined a few key cancer protective behaviours that we can all focus on each day. And it’s good news as all of these recommendations are well within our control.
Be a Healthy Weight
Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion adults and 41 million children and adolescent are overweight/obese.
Being overweight increases the risk of cancers of the bowel, breast, gallbladder, liver, kidney, stomach, and oesophagus. It is scary to think that between 14% and 20% of all cancer deaths are due to excess weight.
By 2030, obesity-related cancers will see the highest mortality rates of all the cancers. A healthy weight is thus crucial for cancer prevention.
One way to do so is to avoid eating high energy foods and sugary drinks while focusing more on low energy, nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and other plant-based foods.
Enjoy More Grains, Vegetables, Fruit, and Beans
Without a doubt, eating more plant-based foods is associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Not only are these foods low in energy, but fruit, vegetable grains and beans are also rich in anti-cancer nutrients like phytochemicals (e.g. carotenoids, phenolic compounds), vitamin C, vitamin E, minerals, fibre, and other bioactive compounds.
And it is a double-win for fruit and vegetables as the cancer-protective properties are likely not only because of these nutrient compounds but also because of other dietary factors within the fruit and vegetables as a whole food, like fibre.
For cancer prevention, aim for at least five portions (400 g) of a variety of vegetables and fruit daily. Choose a different coloured fruit and/or vegetable for a different cancer-protective nutrient each day.
|Colour||Phytochemical||Fruit and Vegetable|
|Red||Lycopene||Tomatoes, tomato products, pink grapefruit, watermelon|
|Red and purple||Anthocyanins, polyphenols||Berries, grapes, red wine, plums|
|Orange||α-carotene, β-carotene||Carrots, mango, pumpkin, butternut|
|Orange and yellow||Cryptoxanthin, flavonoids||Melon, peaches, oranges, papaya, nectarines|
|Yellow and green||Lutein, zeaxanthin||Spinach, avocado, asparagus, citrus fruit|
|Green||Sulforaphane, indoles||Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower|
|White and green||Allyl sulphides||Leeks, onion, garlic, chives, fennel|
Limit Red Meat and Avoided Processed Meat
According to the Global Burden of Disease Project, 34 000 cancer deaths are attributed to diets high in processed meat each year. Added to this, diets high in red meat are estimated to be responsible for 50 000 global deaths annually.
We know that for every 100g of red meat eaten daily and 50g of processed meat, there is a 17 % and 18 % increase risk of cancer, respectively.
For this reason, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends that less than 300 g of red meat is eaten per week, and very little, if any, processed meat.
For Cancer Prevention, Do Not Rely on Supplements
Nutrient supplements are commonly used in the prevention of chronic disease, cancer included. But there actually is not a lot of evidence that supports a beneficial effect of nutrient supplementation for cancer prevention.
The concern is that despite this limited evidence, relying on supplements may divert our attention from following a healthy and well-balanced diet. In a holistic approach to cancer prevention, a healthy and balanced diet is made up of a variety of minimally processed foods, and emphasis should be placed on the whole, unprocessed foods instead of focusing on single nutritional components. While nutrient supplements can help us meet our nutrient needs, “food first” should remain the primary goal.
Breastfeeding, avoiding alcohol, eating less salt, and being more active is also strongly recommended in our goal to prevent cancer.
The FitChef Difference
Portion-controlled for weight management, rich in whole grains, plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas and lentils, colourful fruit and vegetables, and free from artificial sweeteners, added preservatives and flavourings with minimal added sugar, FitChef meals are proudly in line with the recommendations for cancer prevention.
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