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Aveen Bannon

Nutrition and Cancer

Nutrition and cancer is a very topical area. However, frustratingly, a lot of the research linking diet and cancer is “substantial, yet inconclusive,” according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). This is because it is so difficult to establish a definitive link between cancer and specific foods or nutrients. Most findings come from tracking dietary patterns in different populations. What we do know is that 1/3 of all cancer deaths are linked to lifestyle behaviours including diet and exercise. What this tells us is that we need to look at a package of healthy lifestyle choices.

  1. The first step is to be a healthy weight – It is estimated that 20% of all cancers are related to obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight may not only help prevent cancer but also may reduce the risk of other chronic diseases. Reducing obesity with healthy food choices along with portion control and keeping active are important steps for reducing cancer risk.
  2. Fibre! We know that those who reach their daily fibre requirements tend to be leaner. Including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils as part of your daily diet will help boost your fibre intake. Research has shown that eating 30g of fibre or more per day can protect against certain cancers. One example is that for every 7g increase in fibre there is a 7% reduced risk of colon cancer! Fill 1/3 to 1/2 of your breakfast, lunch and dinner plate with fruit, vegetables or salad each day to help meet your fibre goals. Try to eat a rainbow every day and get as many different coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet daily.
  3. Reduce your intake of foods with added sugars that may provide a lot of calories but few nutrients. Although there is no direct link between sugar and cancer one of the biggest risk factors for cancer is being overweight or obese. Eating or drinking foods that are high in sugar can make you gain weight. There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese is linked to 12 types of cancer. The other factor is that if you fill up on these foods you may displace intake of healthier options!
  4. Moderate your meat portions! Red and processed meats have been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer. Your best bet is to enjoy a small portion of meat and fill the rest of your plate with whole grains and vegetables. Limit red meat to about 3 times a week in your diet and include more fish and plant sources of protein in your diet like tofu, tempeh, beans and pulses.  White meats haven’t been associated with an increase in colorectal cancer.
  5. Focus on Plant Proteins  – Beans, pulses, nut and seeds are all great sources of protein that also proved fibre too. Aim to include them in your diet 2-3 times per week.
  6. Keep alcohol to sensible limits, enjoy in moderation. Ideally, for women to limit to no more than 11 units and for a man 17 units per week.

For more tips on reducing your risk or managing diseases through nutrition, consult a registered dietitian.