You really can cut your cancer risk
Be as lean as you can within the normal range of body weight and be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day to reduce your risk of certain cancers are two key messages to come out of The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research report (November 2007).
Here, we have summarised their top tips for a healthy diet to reduce your risk of cancer. All we would add is opt for smart carbs for your meals and snacks to reduce the overall GI of your diet (see ‘The lowdown on reducing the GI of your diet’, GI News, November 2006), make sure you tuck into at least 2 serves of fruit and 5 of vegetables every day and get those good fats especially omega-3s by eating fish a couple of times a week and you’ll reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications and heart disease as well. A bit like going for the trifecta.
- Base your meals on plant foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains such as brown rice and wholemeal pasta. (GI Group: Although all wholegrains are healthy, nutritious foods, it’s only the low GI ones that reduce your blood glucose and insulin levels throughout the day and increase your sense of feeling full and satisfied because they are the ones that slowly trickle glucose into your bloodstream.)
- Opt for a colourful variety of vegetables and fruits every day. They are good sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and are linked to a reduced risk of several cancers.
- Limit your consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) to less than 500 g cooked weight (about 700–750 g raw weight) a week. Why? Although red meat is a valuable source of several nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet, it also has substances that have been shown to damage the lining of the bowel. In fact the evidence linking red meat intake to colorectal cancer is more convincing than it was a decade ago. If you eat the recommended amount, the cancer risk is minimal, but beyond that the risk increases.
- Don’t bring home the bacon. Avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and some sausages. Why? Well, processed meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting or by the addition of preservatives. These methods of preserving meat can produce cancer-causing substances.
- Limit your consumption of salty foods and food processed with salt (sodium). Try to use herbs and spices to flavour your food and remember that processed food and breakfast cereals, can contain large amounts of salt.
- Avoid sugary drinks and limit your consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fibre, or high in fat). Opt for water or unsweetened tea and coffee in place of sugary drinks.
- Watch what you drink. Convincing evidence links alcohol with a range of cancers, so if you want to reduce your risk, don’t drink it. There’s some evidence that small amounts of alcohol (1 standard drink a day) may have a protective effect on the heart, but the benefits only outweigh the risk in those particularly at risk of heart disease – men over 40 and postmenopausal women.