1. Don’t smoke: smoking remains the single biggest risk factor for both men and women, still responsible for a staggering 20% of cancer in the UK.
2. Maintain a healthy body weight. Recent research has shown that weight gain, being overweight or obese increases the risk of numerous cancers, such as cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, colon, breast (post-menopausal), endometrium and kidney.
3. Be physically active as part of everyday life – see above. Regular physical activity has been shown to protect against certain cancers (most notably colorectal cancer, but also breast and endometrial cancer), it also protects against weight gain, being overweight and obesity. You should aim to be moderately active (eg brisk walking for approximately 30 minutes a day). However, as fitness increases you should be trying to improve on this by including more strenuous exercise or longer periods of exercise.
4. Eat plenty of plant-based foods. Try to eat a ‘rainbow’ diet including lots of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits on a daily basis. These contain cancer protective ‘phytochemicals’ and should include alliums (onion family such as leeks, garlic and onions); tomatoes (rich in lycopene); cruciferous veg also known as brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower); green tea which is high in antioxidants. You should also be aiming to include wholegrains, pulses/legumes and nuts and seeds which all provide fibre, protein and beneficial fats as well as a wealth of vitamins and minerals. The government encourages us to eat 5 a day but I would recommend more than that, with the emphasis on vegetables and salads.
5. Limit your intake of red meat and avoid processed meat. Processed meats are strongly linked with an elevated risk of bowel cancer so sausages, bacon, ham, salamis etc should be kept to an absolute minimum. How you cook your meat will also make a difference: frying, grilling and barbecuing are considered less healthful than stewing or casseroling.
6. Limit alcoholic drinks. There is some evidence to suggest that small amounts of alcohol may offer some protection against heart disease but this has be weighed against its contribution to cancers such as mouth cancer, throat cancer, breast cancer, bowel and liver cancer. Limit consumption to 1-2 drinks a day but be aware that any alcohol consumption can raise your risk.
7. Beware of salt. Whilst we do need some salt, those who add salt to their cooking and food and who eat processed, pre-prepared, fast foods and junk are almost definitely consuming too much. The consequences are an increased risk of stomach cancer.
8. Minimise highly processed, refined, and fast foods and sugary drinks. Sugary, fatty, highly processed foods are not only high in calories but low in nutrients, meaning they are major culprits implicated in causing weight gain and obesity (see above). Not only that, but high intakes of sugary and refined carbs are high Glycemic Index (GI) foods, which may promote the risk of some cancers.
9. Vitamin D. Lots of research is being carried out into lack of Vitamin D in the diet and the risk of certain cancers. Here in the UK Vitamin D is in very short supply during the winter months and often during the summer as well! We should try to expose our skins to sunshine safely (before 11am and after 3pm) during the summer months and consider taking a supplement during the winter.
10. Selenium. Selenium is an important mineral for protection against many cancers including prostate cancers. Good dietary sources of selenium include fish, shellfish, meat, kidneys and liver and brazil nuts.
Call Pippa Mitchell our nutritional therapist if you would like more help with your diet