The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research have just published a report, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, created by 23 international experts. There’s nothing new in it on the dietary front, we all know we’re supposed to eat less red meat, drink less alcohol and make sure we get our five fruit and veg a day. What may surprise many is the strength of the claims for cancer prevention based on diet.
• 39% of 12 ‘major’ – that means life-threatening – cancers could be prevented if people led a healthier lifestyle, including 43% of bowel cancer and 42% of breast cancer cases. That’s nearly half the current discovered bowel and breast cancer cases being totally preventable.
• Over two-thirds (67%) of mouth, larynx and pharynx cancer could be prevented if people ate more fresh vegetable and fruit and drank less alcohol.
• 75% of cases of cancer of the oesophagus would disappear if people ate better and took regular exercise. Three-quarters of the cases of this cancer could be eradicated by change simple daily habits!
• 45% of stomach cancer cases might never happen if everybody ensured they got their ‘five a day’ and reduced salt intake to government recommended guideline amounts.
The reports overall recommendations are simple. To avoid cancer, stay lean without being underweight and make sure you eat five fruit and vegetables daily. It doesn’t sound difficult, so why to so many people find it impossible to do?
Partly it’s because being overweight is becoming the norm – setting aside ‘Biggest Loser’, we’ve become inured to the idea that big is fine. In cancer-prevention terms it’s not: being overweight for prolonged periods is one of the biggest predictors of developing preventable cancers. And being overweight impedes many people from taking regular exercise, which makes them more prone to putting on weight.
Partly it’s because convenience foods are all around us and the food industry is not keen to promote unprocessed foods because there’s not much margin on delivering a nice fresh apple to your hand – make it an apple pie and there’s room for more profit!
So what can we do? First, it’s wise for most of us to look at the diet ruts we got into and see if we can revise our eating habits to introduce more fresh fruit and vegetables and remove salt and saturated fats.
- If you eat cereal for breakfast, is there a lower sugar option you could enjoy? If there isn’t, can you add a fresh fruit to your bowl and eat less cereal with it?
- If you eat toast and spread, can you move to a high fruit, low sugar jam to get some more fruit into your day, or simply mash a ripe banana onto your toast to boost your fruit intake?
- What about some fresh berries or a mandarin or tangerine with your yogurt?
- Can you get an extra serving of vegetables into every meal? Try dicing celery and sprinkling it on soft cheese or soup, slicing tomatoes to go on top of a peanut butter sandwich, lettuce as a ‘plate’ under your deli meats or pickles. What about making your own salsa and snacking on it with tortilla chips, or adding your own fresh pepper, onion and tomato slices to that ordered-in pizza that you just couldn’t resist?
Getting extra fruit and vegetables into your diet isn’t just for you: your family and friends will learn from your behaviour and that means that you’ll be helping them avoid some of the cancers that disrupt families and steal lives.
The full recommendations can be found here.