Cancer touches so many lives and we can all play our part towards achieving a cancer-free world. Check out the positive diet changes you can make today to lower the risk for you and your loved ones.
World Cancer Day (4 February) offers a moment to stop and look at the compelling diet and lifestyle advice that can help us lower our risk of certain cancers. At worldcancerday.org, you’ll find advice about how to get involved, from spreading the word on social media to raising funds for research into treatment breakthroughs. Use the hashtag #IAmAndIWill to share the many resources on the website.
What we eat and drink can help lower the risk of cancer. Changing diet can have ‘an enormous impact on people’s likelihood of developing cancer and other chronic diseases,’ says the World Cancer Research Fund’s medical and scientific adviser Professor Martin Wiseman. Below, we look at the latest evidence from WCRF and suggest how you can put it into action via your diet.
1. Stay within the healthy weight range
WCRF evidence: The link between extra body fat and many cancers has got even more convincing over the past 10 years, especially for oesophageal, pancreatic, liver, colorectal, kidney and postmenopausal breast cancer. It’s also a probable cause of several others, including mouth and stomach cancer. For some cancers, that risk rises as body fat increases, even within the ‘healthy’ BMI range.
Advice: Try to keep your own weight within the BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 for adults.
HFG action plan: We don’t believe in fad diets. Eating the HFG way means you’re more likely to stick to healthy weight loss long term. All our recipes are nutritionally analysed and if you find it hard to plan your weekly diet, then check out our new meal planner tool.
2. Target five-a-day and fibre
WCRF evidence: Eating too few fruit and veg is linked with 5% of cancer cases, and eating too little fibre with 2% worldwide. Eating wholegrains protects against colorectal cancer.
Advice: Aim for five portions or a total of at least 400g of non-starchy vegetables and fruits a day. Eat more wholegrains and pulses like beans and lentils to get your fibre intake up to the recommended daily 30g or more.
HFG action plan: Eat at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal and when snacking. Frozen, canned in water or juice and dried versions all count. To up your fibre, opt for wholegrain breads, rice, noodles and other grains such as couscous and barley.
3. Limit fast food
WCRF evidence: Eating a lot of ‘fast food’ and processed foods packed with sugars, refined starches and fats leads to weight gain and obesity, which in turn increases our risk of many cancers. There is also evidence that links the increase in blood glucose after eating high glycaemic foods with endometrial cancer.
Advice: Limit processed foods and ‘fast foods’, which includes many pre-prepared dishes, snacks, bakery foods and desserts and confectionery.
HFG action plan:
– Swap sugary breakfast cereals for sugar-free muesli or, for example, a savoury breakfast croissant for poached eggs on wholemeal toast.
– Instead of a muffin mid morning switch to a banana and a handful of nuts. Or make your own.
– At lunchtime, rather than a white bread sandwich or French stick filled with tuna mayonnaise, try a tuna salad with a wholemeal roll on the side.
– Mid afternoon swap biscuits or cake for a small piece of dark chocolate and berries or oatcakes with ricotta cheese and an apple.
-At dinner, ditch the Chinese takeaway and cook a tofu stir fry and serve with brown basmati rice.
4. Eat less red and processed meat
WCRF evidence: Eating red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, or processed meat are both causes of colorectal cancer.
Advice: Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, and eat little, if any, processed meat.
HFG action plan: You don’t have to completely avoid red meat as it can be a valuable source of nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B1, but try to stay within the recommended advice of no more than three portions a week – equivalent to about 350–500g cooked weight. Limit processed meat to just occasional meals or snacks. Look to pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs, lower fat dairy and soya milk alternatives as alternative protein sources.
5. Drink water
WCRF evidence: Drinking sugar-sweetened drinks is a cause of weight gain and obesity in both children and adults, especially when drunk in large amounts.
Advice: Don’t drink sugar-sweetened drinks every day. If you have fruit juice, stick to 150ml because in large amounts they are likely to promote weight gain.
HFG action plan: Get into the habit of drinking water. Pep it up by adding slices of citrus fruit or cucumber. Drink tea and coffee with lower fat milk and without sugar, and substitute herbal and fruit teas occasionally.
6. Limit alcohol
WCRF evidence: Drinking alcohol is a cause of cancer of the mouth, pharynx and larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectal, pre and post-menopausal breast and stomach cancer. Even small amounts can increase the risk.
Advice: There is no threshold of alcohol consumption below which cancer risk does not increase, at least for some cancers.
HFG action plan: If you do drink alcohol, stay within the UK guidelines of no more than 14 units a week.
WCRF evidence: Apart from calcium for colorectal cancer, there is no evidence that dietary supplements can reduce cancer risk and high-dose beta-carotene supplements may even increase the risk of lung cancer in some people.
The advice: High-dose dietary supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention.
HFG action plan: For most people, the right diet is more likely to protect against cancer than dietary supplements. If you are thinking of taking a supplement, check with your GP, specialist or registered dietitian first.
8. Be physically active
WCRF evidence: Physical activity protects against cancers of the colon, breast and endometrium, and helps prevent excess weight gain.
Advice: Be moderately physically active and follow or exceed national guidelines while limiting sedentary habits.
HFG action plan: As a minimum, do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. This can include household chores, gardening, walking, swimming, dancing, team sports – anything that you enjoy and that fits in with your likes, timetable and physical ability. Avoid being sedentary for long periods – get up and move around – and if you have an office-based, sedentary job, stand up when taking phone calls and walk around or at least stand when you have breaks.