As some of you might know, I am passionate about cancer prevention as I don’t want anyone to go through what my mother or aunt or friends or even I went through. When I first realised that I wanted to work with cancer, it was to save people and treat them by becoming an oncologist. But once I saw first hand how hard treatment was on my mum and aunt, my focus switched to prevention.
Back in 1999, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, there weren’t many dietary and lifestyle recommendations given to cancer patients or those who wanted to prevent recurrence. Whilst there was some research published about how nutrition and lifestyle could prevent cancer, many of the long term epidemiological studies hadn’t been completed or reported on.
In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases of cancer globally and this has a massive financial, social and emotional impact on the world. World Cancer Research fund has been researching the link between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer since 1983. Around 42% of all cancers are preventable and the more that we know about the links between diet, lifestyle and cancer, the more recommendations we can share.
The latest WCRF report investigated over 51 million people, reviewing 17 cancers and numerous studies over the last 10 years. All the scientific data and research papers were analysed by a team at Imperial College , before being analysed by the IARC and then WCRF team to gather the recommendations made.
The 10 recommendations made to in the report are:
Be a healthy weight – there is lots of evidence to demonstrate that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 12 cancers – this is linked to the percentage of body fat rather than muscle mass. Weight gain in adult life increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.
Be physically active- being physically active can protect against breast, colon and endometrial cancer, and it helps prevent weight gain. Recommendations including walking more and sitting less.
Eat wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans – eating a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and beans helps to prevent some cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, and prevents against weight gain, being overweight or obese. The recommendations suggesting eating at least 30g of fibre and at least 400g of vegetables and fruit. In the UK, the average adult only eats 17g of fibre so this is almost dluble this. 400g of vegetables and fruit equates to at least 5 portions, as one portion is counted as 80g.
Limit fast foods – limit eating processed foods high in fat, sugar and starch as this helps to control weight gain by limiting calorie intake. Most evidence on fast foods include foods that are dense in calories but not nutrients such as Friench fries, and burgers, and high calorie drinks.
Limit red and processed meat – the recommendations are to eat no more than 3 portions of red meat i.e. between 350g to 500g a week and as little as possible of processed meat. Processed meat is meat that has been smoked, salted, cured or preserved – this includes ham, sausages, bacon etc.
Limit sugary drinks – There is lots of evidence suggesting that consuming sugary drinks causes weight gain, being overweight and obese by increasing calorie intake. Drink water or unsweetened drinks.
Limit alcohol consumption – consumption of alcohol increases the risk of several cancers. This includes drinking all types of alcohol.
Rely on diet rather than supplements – high dose supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention. For example, high dose beta carotene is actually linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. Most people should be able to fulfil their nutritional requirements through diet alone.
Breastfeed your baby – breastfeeding helps prevent breast cancer in the mother, and being breastfed as a baby, helps to protect them from being overweight or obese later in life.
Cancer survivors – following the recommendations above, particularly for breast cancer survivors, can help to prevent recurrence.
I will be writing and sharing more of the evidence behind the research in my upcoming book and illustrating this with recipes. For further information, see the following link: