Home » Cancer Risk and Diet: Facts and Misconceptions
Cancer is among the leading causes of death globally, making cancer risk a growing concern as people try to find answers to the question on everybody’s mind, “how to prevent cancer”.
PS: Take the Cancer Risk Quiz today to find out your chances of developing cancer.
For most of us, preventing cancer takes various forms. For example, most of us will choose (and rightly so) to go for cancer screening to find and treat several types of cancer early, before they cause symptoms.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “cancer screening promotes, early detection, which is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and be harder to treat.
Sexually active people typically opt for the HPV vaccine, which helps protect against certain types of HPV that can lead to genital warts or cancers of the cervix, anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat.
Indeed, people of all ages (from 9 to 45) can get the HPV vaccine to protect against genital warts and/or different types of HPV that can cause cancer. It’s recommended that children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, so they’re fully protected years before they become sexually active.
Numerous other ways can be used to prevent cancer.
However, at no time in history has the link between cancer risk and diet been more apparent than it presently is.
According to the JNCO Cancer Spectrum report of 2015, approximately 80,000 or 5.2% of all new cases of cancer among adults over 20 years in the U.S. can be traced back to poor diet and heating habits.
This proportion is comparable to that caused by alcohol consumption.
Specifically, studies show that low intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products, as well excessive consumption of processed, red meat and sugar-sweetened drinks increases one’s cancer risk.
Actually, previous studies have revealed that high intake of processed meat and low consumption of whole grains substantially increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
These findings indicate that healthy diet is among the leading variable cancer risk factors and one of the most important answers to how to prevent cancer.
People should improve their intake of vital food groups to decrease the risk of cancer.
Unfortunately, processed foods have become the mainstay of many U.S. households.
Over 60% of the typical American diet’s calories come from ultra-processed foods. The same applies for 50% of the UK and Canadian diets.
Numerous studies have shown the potential benefits of organic foods and their overall effect in reducing the prevalence of cancer.
Specifically, organic foods increase your ability to fight colon cancer, cervical cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and non-Hodgin lymphoma.
While it extremely difficult to tie specific foods directly to increasing cases of cancer, observational studies show that excessive consumption of some foods does increase the chances of developing cancer.
Researchers are currently investigating the claim that the prevalence of prostate cancer is typically higher in countries where men primarily eat a Western diet that has high amounts of meat than in nations where organic or plant-based foods are preferred.
The American Cancer Society has listed some of the well-known and probable human carcinogens as outlined by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
You check out this list if you need to know how to prevent cancer.
Here’s what is known so far about how to prevent cancer;
Sugar increases the risk of cancer
A simple Google search of the relationship between sugar and cancer will reveal a lot of confusing, misleading, and often incorrect information.
Most of this information inaccurately claims that refined sugar causes cancer or that eliminating sugar from your diet can be used as a form of cancer treatment.
However, the science behind metabolism can more accurately represent this relationship.
Excessive consumption of carbohydrates is a major cause of obesity, which, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Only in this respect is sugar directly related to the chances of developing cancer, for now at least!
Fundamentally, obesity results from eating more calories than your body can burn during a certain period, and not because of eating a lot of fat.
Carbohydrates can be refined to produce sugars and other ‘foods’ that are pleasurable to us, including soft drinks and ice cream, among others.
These substances, with their high caloric values, have shifted people’s focus from eating balanced, healthy diets to consuming enough calories to provide energy and support life.
Over time, we stored away too much fat in our bodies’ fat cells, thereby undermining and inhibiting their role as signaling cells.
Fat cells produce and interact with various hormones to regulate inflammation, which is a natural response to injury or infection.
The assumption, therefore, that eliminating sugar from your diet will starve cancer cells is wrong because your body has a natural fail-safe system that will never allow your blood glucose to go below a certain level.
If you eat less sugar, your body will automatically derive the deficit from remaining resources to produce glucose.
Avoiding sugar all together while eating high amounts of carbohydrates is futile in preventing cancer.
Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet and stay clear of foods that are rich in carbohydrates and added sugars and low in dietary fiber to keep your weight down and prevent cancer.
Processed, red meat increases the risk of cancer
According to the Cancer Council, eating over 700 grams of red meat such as pork, goat, mutton, veal, and beef (Group 2A carcinogens – probable causes of cancer) per week will increase the risk of colon cancer.
Red meat does not include rabbit, chicken, goose, turkey, duck, and game birds.
Actually, your risk of colon cancer increases by 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat you eat daily.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies processed meats, including sausages, salami, bacon canned meat, and ham, as Group 1 carcinogens, implying that there is irrefutable evidence that processed meats cause cancer directly.
Can you guess how to reduce your risk of cancer now?
Red and processed meats contain certain added and naturally occurring chemicals that make them carcinogenic.
Haem, for instance, is broken down in the gut to form N-nitroso chemicals that damage the lining of the bowel, thereby causing bowel cancer.
The nitrite and nitrate-based preservatives in processed meat produce the same chemicals.
The Cancer Council gives the following recommendations regarding red and processed meats;
- Eat no more than one serving of red meat daily or two servings 3-4 times weekly.
- Eliminate processed meats from your diet or keep them to a minimum.
- Increase your consumption of vegetarian and balanced diets to reduce your cancer risk.
Alcohol use increases cancer risk
While many people are aware of the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption, many more do not know that drinking alcohol can increase the chances of developing cancer.
Avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption is another way of how to reduce your risk of cancer.
Alcohol consumption has been linked to several types of cancer, including mouth, voice box, throat, liver, breast, esophagus, and colon cancer. The more you drink, the higher your chances of developing cancer.
More importantly, it is the amount of alcohol rather than the type that influences the risk of cancer.
All alcoholic beverages, including wines, beers, and distilled spirits, among others, contain ethanol in varying concentrations, which is responsible for increasing the risk of cancer.
The risk is even more pronounced in people who drink and smoke because alcohol stimulates the absorption of harmful chemicals in tobacco in cells that line the mouth, esophagus, and throat.
It may also limit how thee cells repair their damaged DNA.
However, the exact mechanisms through which alcohol increases cancer risk are not entirely understood.
Depending on the type of cancer, alcohol may act as a carcinogen by damaging body tissues, boosting the effects of other harmful chemicals, such as those found in tobacco smoke, limiting the absorption of folates and other vital nutrients, causing hormonal imbalances, especially in women, and increasing body weight.
Vegetables can help fight cancer
Vegetables are vital for those who want to know how to decrease the risk of cancer.
Plant-based, healthy diets are believed to be modestly cancer protective by between 10 to 12 percent overall, but the effect on specific types of cancer are unknown.
Cruciferous vegetables, including kale, bok choy, turnips, cauliflower, wasabi, broccoli, horseradish, radishes, and brussels sprouts, among others, contain high nutrient concentrations.
They are rich in carotenoids, folates, vitamins C, E, and K, dietary fiber, and numerous minerals.
They also contain glucosinolates, the sulfur-containing chemicals that produce the pungent smell and bitter taste of cruciferous vegetables.
The glucosinolates are broken down into several biologically active compounds, including nitrites, indoles, isothiocyanates, and thiocyanates, which are believed to have anti-cancer effects.
In animal studies and experiments using laboratory-grown cells, these substances protect cells from DNA damage, inactivate carcinogens, produce anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral effects, induce apoptosis, and inhibit angiogenesis and tumor cell migration.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, approximately 20 percent of all cancer cases in the United States are attributable to body fatness, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition.
Besides quitting smoking, you can also reduce your cancer risk by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and eating balanced, healthy diets.
Controlling your weight will not only help you prevent cancer, but also prevent other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Regularly check your BMI score to determine if your weight is healthy.
In addition to exercising regularly, you should also focus on eating healthy foods to improve your overall health and reduce your cancer risk.
Also, remember to limit your alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day for men and one drink daily for women if you must take alcohol.
Otherwise, avoid it all together.
We will keep this post updated as new evidence comes up.
In the meantime, feel free to leave your complements, complaints, or questions below and we well respond at the earliest opportunity.