We are What we Eat: Healthy Eating for Cancer Prevention

With lifestyle diseases and cancer becoming more prevalent in our societies and organic and healthy food becoming more and more accessible, people have started to question if eating a healthy diet has been scientifically shown to prevent cancer.

There is unfortunately no short answer to this question. Although many studies have found a healthy diet to be a protective factor against cancer, not all of the evidence is conclusive. Many studies site confounding factors such as environmental and genetic factors as the cause for this scientific indecision. While we can all shake our heads and tut at science’s embarrassingly limited knowledge of human nutrition, perhaps we can cut science a little slack by acknowledging that life-long dietary patterns during specific stages of life and the effects thereof on the body, would be difficult to detect in relatively short-term clinical research studies.

Regardless of these shortfalls, we can however comfort sulky science by acknowledging that many studies do note a relationship between fruit, vegetables (non-starchy ones-sorry potatoes) and whole grain with cancers of the lung, colon, breast, cervix, oesophagus, oral cavity, stomach, bladder, pancreas and ovary.[1]

An analysis of multiple studies examining the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancers showed that 128 of 156 studies (82%) found a statistically significant protective effect especially in cancers related to the gastro-intestinal tract such as the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.[1]

In addition to this a meta-analysis reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) provides further evidence that “whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of […] total cancer, [thus] these findings support dietary guidelines that recommend increased intake of whole grain to reduce the risk of chronic diseases”[2].

Thus, from all this medical and scientific jargon, we can deduce that not only do fruits, veggies and whole grains such as brown rice and unrefined cereals, make us feel stronger and more energetic, they also reduce the risk of developing cancer.

So, with science in mind, here is a table illustrating all the lifestyle changes recommended by the American Cancer Society that you can make to reduce your risk of cancer[3]:

  1. Consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources (yummy fruit and veg):
    1. Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, obesity has been proven to be linked to an increased risk of cancer so maintaining a healthy weight is vital
    2. Five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits are recommended each day (an apple, pear, orange, some broccoli and lettuce actually do keep the doctor away)
    3. Choose whole grains over processed (refined) grains.
    4. Limit consumption of processed and red meats (good for you, the animals and the environment)
    5. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption (drink no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men)

Lastly along with making these changes to your diet, adopt a physically active lifestyle (at least 30 mins of vigorous activity on 5 or more days of the week for adults, at least 60 mins for children and adolescents) and (a no brainer) stop smoking[3].


References and useful links:

  1. Gladys Block, Blossom Patterson & Amy Subar. Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: A review of the epidemiological evidence. Journal of Nutrition and Cancer. Published August 2009
    Accessed via: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01635589209514201
  2. Lawrence HK, Byers T, Doyle C, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention: Reducing the Risk of Cancer With Healthy Food Choices and Physical Activity. Published in CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians. September 2006.

Accessed via: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/canjclin.56.5.254/full

  1. Aune Dagfinn, Keum NaNa, Giovannucci Edward, Fadnes Lars T, Boffetta Paolo, Greenwood Darren C et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies BMJ 2016; 353 :i2716

Accessed via: https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2716.long

Written by By Anesu Mbizvo
Anesu Mbizvo is a qualified medical doctor and yoga instructor, passionate about holistic health and natural medicine.

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