Cancer and Diet

Experts W110 study the causes of cancer believe that a large number of cancer deaths could be prevented by making sensible changes to our diet. In fact, many scientists believe that up to 70 percent of all cancers are caused by diet-related factors.

Dietary Fat and Cancer

The amount of fat in the diet is linked with an increased risk of cancer, particularly to cancers of the breast, lung, colon, rectum, ovary, and prostate. The precise role of fat in cancer is not yet known, although some evidence exists to suggest that high levels of fats in the blood are important for the growth of certain tumours.

Free Radicals

Another possible mechanism to explain the link between fat and cancer relates to the action of substances called free radicals. It appears that fats obtained from our diet are particularly susceptible to the action of free radicals and may be converted into forms called trans fats, or TFAs, by free radicals. These altered fats may play an important role in the triggering of cancerous changes in body cells. Antioxidants from the diet neutralize the action of free radicals and fats in the body. So, the greater the ratio of fat and oils to antioxidants in the body, the greater seems the risk of developing cancer.

Trans Fats in The Diet

There is evidence that the high temperatures used in the manufacture of margarine and many vegetable oils, and in the preparation of many processed and prepackaged foods, changes the chemical structure of the fat they contain. These altered fats are known as trans fatty acids (trans fats or TFAs). They deal with these fats as easily as with the natural fats, and there is some suspicion that TFAs may be a cause of disease, including cancer.

Salt Cured, Salt Pickled, Smoked Foods And Cancer

Eating large amounts of salt-cured, salt-pickled, and smoked foods has been linked to cancer of the esophagus. The smoke from curing seems to create cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in the food, while salt-cured and salt-pickled foods contain chemicals that can be converted into carcinogens in the food or in the stomach.

Barbecued Food

Grilling or barbecuing food over an open flame can also create carcinogens on the surface of foods, particularly if the food is charred and fatty. Obviously, the occasional barbecue meal is unlikely to create a serious cancer risk. But if charbroiled meats form a regular part of your diet, it may be sensible to consider cutting down on these foods.

Anticancer Foods

Because cancers are very varied and the causes of the disease are complex - and so far not fully understood - there can be no firm guarantee that dietary measures can prevent cancer. However, just as some foods may increase the risk of cancers, there are others that may actually help protect against them.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

Increasing the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals we eat is the key dietary measure that may help protect us from cancer. These foods contain an abundance of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which have been shown to have a protective effect against the development of a number of different cancers. The relative decline in the intake of these foods in the industrialized world in favour of high-fat and high-sugar processed foods may in part explain the increase in certain forms of cancer.

The Function of Fiber

Fiber, the part of plant foods that humans cannot completely digest or absorb, is vital to the health of the digestive tract. In particular, eating adequate amounts of fiber reduces our risk of colorectal cancer. Some scientists believe that certain foods contain toxins or chemicals that may induce cancerous changes in the lining of the colon. It is thought that by speeding the passage of food through the intestine, fiber reduces the time during which these chemicals can have this effect.

Obesity and Cancer

Women who are overweight or obese appear to be at increased risk of cancers of the breast and uterus (womb). Studies also suggest that obese men may have increased likelihood of cancers of the prostate and colon. The reason for these findings is not entirely clear, though they may have something to do with dietary factors such as fat and fiber consumption. A healthy body weight therefore seems to be important in reducing the risk of cancer.

Anticancer Action Plan

The World Cancer Research Fund guidelines designed to lower cancer risk are:

Cut down on the amount of fat in the diet. The proportion of energy in the diet derived from fat should be under 30 percent.

Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals.

Reduce intake of salt-cured, salt-pickled, and smoked foods.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

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