Healthy eating to reduce your cancer risk

Caroline Cassidy

A healthy diet is essential for general wellbeing but it can also help lower your risk of developing some of the most common types of cancer.

Anti-cancer diet
Anti-cancer diet

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According to the NHS, around a quarter of all cancers are caused by obesity and poor diet. The World Health Organisation also lists obesity or being overweight as the second most important known cause of the disease, second only to smoking.

So what should you be eating (or not) in order to reduce your risk? Few specific foods have been shown to significantly increase or reduce the risk - it is getting the balance of food types, nutrients and chemicals right that counts and a few simple changes to your diet could make a difference.

Eat more...

EPIC, a huge international study looking at the link between diet and cancer partially funded by Cancer Research UK, found that those who ate a high-fibre diet had a 25 to 40 per cent lower risk of bowel cancer compared to those who ate very little.

Similarly those who consume 80g of fish each day managed to reduce their risk of bowel cancer by a third compared to those who ate less.

Getting your five-a-day is also beneficial - the same study revealed a link between plenty of fruit and veg in the diet and a reduced risk of mouth, oesophageal and lung cancer. Though scientists are still attempting to discover which specific nutrients help to reduce the risk, there is strong evidence to suggest that a wide range of different coloured fruit and vegetables is most effective.

Cut back on...

There is some disagreement as to the link between saturated fat and breast cancer but two recent and extensive studies (including EPIC), which asked participants to keep food diaries found that women who eat a diet high in saturated fat are more likely to develop the disease. It is thought levels of oestrogen and other hormones in the blood may be increased by fat in the diet thereby affecting the risk level. Swapping full fat butter, cream and cheese for reduced fat versions (used sparingly) may help.

Too much salt may be a factor in cases of stomach cancer - according to Cancer Research this type of cancer is common in countries such as Japan where diets contain plenty of salty and salt-preserved foods - so it is best to stick to the recommended 6g (1 teaspoon) each day.

Red and processed meats have also been linked with an increased cancer risk. A red pigment, called haem, found in both has been found to stimulate bacteria in the gut to produce chemicals known to cause cancer. But if you can't imagine life without red meat, it is worth considering how you cook it - Cancer Research advises that meat cooked at high temperatures (frying or barbecuing) produces chemicals that can damage DNA, increasing the risk of developing cancer.

Making a few changes to your everyday diet is beneficial to your health and wellbeing but remember that to get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients, a varied and balanced diet is essential - fresh fruit and vegetables, fibre, starchy foods and protein all play their part.