We all know that foods nourish our bodies and help us to glow from the inside out (hello veggies) and there are a raft of other foods we should try to avoid in our diet because of the damaging effects they can have on our health (sayonara processed junk a.k.a ‘fake’ food).
When it comes to what we eat and the link to cancer however, the information – especially in recent years – can be more confusing. Recent news headlines have lambasted some of the most common of tasty treats like bacon and other red meats, refined sugar and even white bread and other carbohydrates.
To set the record straight once and for all we asked Cancer Council to dish us up five facts about food and cancer. Research now shows that one third of cancers can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle, and key to this, says Cancer Council, is enjoying a healthy diet.
Fruit and vegetables are some of the best foods you can eat to reduce your risk of cancer as they’re rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. They are also low in kilojoules and therefore great food choices if you’re also trying to maintain or lose weight. There is no one ‘super’ fruit or vegetable that protects against cancer. Instead, try to ‘eat a rainbow’ – it will help keep your diet interesting and give your body the best protection.
In terms of preparation, eating a combination of both cooked and raw vegetables is best, as there are some cancer-fighting agents which are better absorbed from cooked fruit or vegetables. Good methods of cooking include steaming, stir frying, grilling and roasting. These use as little water as possible preventing nutrients and vitamins leaching out into the water.
TIP: Aim for at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.
Evidence is now building for the importance of including wholegrain foods regularly in a cancer prevention diet, especially to help decrease the risk of bowel cancer. Consumption of fibre and wholegrains are also associated with a lower risk of common lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dietary fibre occurs naturally in foods such as wholegrain cereals, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes.
TIP: Wholegrains such as wheat, brown rice, corn, oats, rye, barley, millet and sorghum are an important part of a healthy diet as they are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fibre and protective phytochemicals.
There is now a clear body of evidence that bowel cancer is more common among those who eat the most red and processed meat. The World Health Organization has classified processed meats – including ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs – as a class 1 carcinogen, which means that there is evidence that processed meats contribute towards cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork has been classified as a ‘probable’ cause of cancer. However, with this being said, lean red meat can be an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein and in terms of cancer risk there is no reason to cut meat completely from your diet, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. The Cancer Council recommends eating only moderate amounts of fresh lean red meat – a moderate intake of meat is 65-100g of cooked red meat, 3-4 times a week – and a limited amount or avoid eating processed meats, which are high in fat, salt and nitrates.
TIP: The following are examples of 1 serve of meat – this should roughly fit into the palm of your hand:
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of ten types of cancer including breast (post-menopause), endometrial and ovarian cancers in women; bowel, oesophageal, liver, kidney, pancreatic and gallbladder cancers, as well as advanced prostate cancer in men. Being overweight also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, gout, impaired fertility, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and many other conditions.
TIP: Filling your plate with plant foods, watching portion sizes, limiting junk food and choosing to drink water will help you maintain a healthy weight. In addition, aim for 60 minutes of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise most days, but every little bit counts so start small and gradually increase your activity.
There is convincing evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the bowel, breast, liver, mouth, throat, larynx and oesophagus. The more you drink, the greater the risk; and the type of alcohol you drink doesn’t make a difference.
TIP: If you choose to drink, limit your intake. The recommended intake is an average of no more than 2 standard drinks a day.