The World Health Organization estimates that about one in six deaths globally is due to cancer. In 2018, that added up to about 9.6 million deaths around the world.
At the same time, about one third of those cancer deaths are the result of lifestyle and behaviour – meaning, they are preventable.
So while the scientific community continues to seek the cure for cancer – or various cures for various cancers – there is much we can do as individuals to substantially reduce our chances of a cancer diagnosis.
The food we eat plays an important role in preventing the development of diet-associated cancers, such as oesophagus, colorectum, breast, endometrium, kidney and pancreas cancers. So does our overall body weight, as a high body mass index (BMI) – which is related to our diet and activity level – is also linked to a higher cancer risk.
What should I be eating?
In general terms, choosing foods and drinks that allow you to maintain a healthy weight is a primary goal, as excess body fat increases cancer risk. That means limiting high-calorie foods to smaller portions.
In addition, here are some general guidelines of what to eat in order to reduce your cancer risk:
- Limit processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, lunch meats and hot dogs) and red meat.
- Choose fish, poultry or beans instead of red meat or, if you eat red meat, choose lean cuts and smaller portions.
- Eat a wide variety of whole vegetables and fruits each day at every meal.
- Choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices.
- Limit your use of creamy sauces, dressings, and dips with fruits and vegetables.
- Choose whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereals (such as barley and oats) instead of breads, pasta and cereals made from refined grains, and choose brown rice instead of white rice.
- Limit your intake of pastries, candy, sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, and other high-sugar foods.
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor).
Overall, studies show that higher vegetable and fruit intake reduces cancer risk, so it’s wise to take in a high portion of your calories in these foods. However, studies have not found that vitamins and supplements reduce cancer risk, so it’s best to get your nutrition directly from whole foods (in as close to their natural state as possible).
What foods shouldn’t worry me too much?
There are so many blogs, articles, media outlets and social media sources of information these days that it can be hard to know which foods actually increase our cancer risk and which have little or no impact.
According to the American Cancer Society, the following foods and drinks do not increase our cancer risk:
- Coffee and tea (caffeine is considered safe)
- Dietary fat (except that it is calorically dense and could increase body weight)
- Non-nutritive sweeteners (such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose)
- Salt (used in cooking or flavouring foods)
You may have other reasons to avoid or eliminate some of these foods, but they have not been shown to be a risk for cancer.
In the simplest terms, a healthy diet consists of a variety of whole foods, with minimal processing and in portion sizes that maintain a healthy body weight. Eating this way helps all of us avoid lifestyle-related cancers.
Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre
46 Point Finger Road, Paget
(441) 236 – 1001