Cutting your cancer risk

A diet rich in unprocessed grains and meats, fruits and veggies can reduce your risk of cancer.

If you believe that cancer is a disease that strikes from nowhere and with very little in your control that can prevent it, then you would be wrong. Many cases of cancer are considered preventable by simple nutrition and lifestyle changes.

When it comes to diet and cancer, it should be no surprise that fruit, vegetables and unprocessed grains and cereals come out on top as being the best ‘cancer-preventing’ foods. While some foods may be promoted as being more beneficial, there is no single ‘superfood’ that can prevent cancer; a combination of good eating habits and food variety give the greatest benefit.

Getting more fibre in your diet by eating more wholegrain foods and cutting back on processed foods will do your risk of colon cancer the world of good. It is also wise to cut back on the amount of red meat and processed meat in your diet as these have been consistently linked to raising colon cancer risk. Having fish in place of meat occasionally could give you a double benefit as the omega-3 oils in fish have been linked to lowering the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer.

When it comes to alcohol, forget about justifying drinking because it is good for your heart. Alcohol is strongly linked to cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, breast, colon and liver; the more you drink, the greater the risk. Risk though needs to be balanced with lifestyle and enjoyment as there are many other positive things you can do to reduce cancer risk without giving up your favourite drink altogether.

Physical activity is now recognised as a potent ‘cancer-preventing’ habit. Estimates link regular physical activity to a 20-40% lower risk of colon and post-menopausal breast cancer and potential benefit in lowering prostate cancer risk too. How much physical activity is enough? All physical activity is beneficial, but for cancer prevention up to one hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily gives the greatest benefit.

Carrying too much weight, especially around the middle, is a known cancer risk, especially for breast and colon cancer risk. Men should aim for a waist circumference below 94cm. For women it’s below 80cm.

A set of guidelines combining the scientific evidence for how lifestyle can influence cancer risk helps anyone take a few simple steps now, that can have a dramatic benefit later, in reducing their cancer risk.

For some people, a complete lifestyle overhaul can be a difficult thing to manage in one go. Instead, focus on one change at a time like building more activity into your day and then following this up by eating five different types of fruits and vegetables with the emphasis on colour as your best guide to variety.

Prevention guidelines shouldn’t be seen as a prescription for restricting your life, but a series of small changes to how you eat and live now that will build the framework for a long, healthy and cancer-free life.

Nutrition and lifestyle guidelines for cancer prevention

1.         Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods.

2.         Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits

3.         Maintain a healthy weight

4.         Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all

5.         Eat foods that are low in fat and salt

6.         Prepare (avoid charring) and store foods safely

7.         Do not smoke

8.         Avoid high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements

9.         Take part in regular physical activity

10.     Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight

More information is available from Cancer Council Australia.

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