Is Your Diet Increasing Your Risk of Cancer?
Is Your Diet Lowering Your Risk of Cancer?
Cancer is a disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Recent statistics show that approximately 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2020 alone.
While continuous research and new treatments improve survival rates, no single treatment exists yet as a guaranteed cure.
A high percentage of malignancies develop due to external factors, with carcinogens being a component of these factors.
So, like most illnesses, prevention is always better than cure. Even if prevention isn’t guaranteed, it still gives you a better chance of avoiding cancer.
Some cancers are easier to prevent than others. Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer, for example. Some work environments that use heavy chemicals may also increase the risk of some cancers.
However, without a particular cause, like with the BRCA gene that causes breast cancer, it’s difficult to know what lifestyle changes to make to ensure you’re less susceptible.
But overall, statistics show that the healthier a person is, the less likely they are to get a cancer diagnosis.
And we all know that a healthy body starts and ends with diet and exercise. As the saying goes, “what you put in, is what you get out”.
Which Foods are a High Cancer Risk?
We tend to think that any food is good, but scientists have seen a strong link between certain foods and some types of cancer.
- Fried Foods
When food items are subjected to intensely high temperatures, such as during roasting and frying, a compound called ‘Acrylamide’ develops inside the food items. Acrylamide is a known carcinogen that develops only in chemically or thermally processed foods.
Recent research has revealed that Acrylamide is capable of causing oxidative stress within the cells and gives rise to DNA damage, which in turn, increases the risk for developing several different types of cancers.
- Barbecued/Grilled Meat
When it comes to barbecuing food, everyone has their preferences as to how the meat should be grilled. But if you’re someone who likes their meat charred, beware of ‘Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). According to the United States National Cancer Institute, “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan-frying or grilling directly over an open flame.”
- Sugary and Refined Foods
Eating sugar-rich foods and those with refined carbohydrates instantly raises your blood glucose levels. They also cause inflammation inside the body that keeps the cells subjected to oxidative stress, a known cancer risk.
- Processed Meat and Food
Who doesn’t love hotdogs? They’re a great ready-to-eat, time-saving meal. However, when these foods are processed to obtain their ‘ready-to-eat’ forms, they often get subjected to certain harsh processes that cause them to contain several hazardous chemicals and carcinogens.
Of course, not everyone who eats these foods will develop cancer. And certainly not if they are only consumed once in a while.
The danger lies in other factors that could mean your risk of developing cancer is higher than others. Adding another level of risk by frequently consuming these types of foods, could be the factor that causes cancer to develop.
Are There Foods That Actively Prevent Cancer?
Fortunately, certain foods contain some very nutritious and beneficial properties that decrease the risk of cancer developing. These foods are usually natural, fresh, and come in a rainbow of colours.
Add these to your next grocery shop;
Berries have been proven to protect against cancers of the oesophagus, breasts, lungs, and bladder. This is due to the high content of anthocyanins and antioxidants found in the berries that possess cancer-fighting properties. In addition, they were also found to help inhibit the abnormal, cancerous cell growth in the body.
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant. This beta-carotene helps protect the cells against cell damage and thus, prevents abnormal cell growth from taking place at rapid rates. Due to cellular metabolism, the cells often produce free radicals as end products of chemical reactions. Free radicals are usually eliminated from the body using natural anti-oxidants. However, sometimes the capacity of anti-oxidants is overwhelmed, allowing free radicals to damage important tissues.
This is particularly helpful because research has proven that eating carrots help reduce the risk of lung, stomach, and prostate cancer.
Cinnamon is well-known for its health benefits and has been studied closely to determine its cancer-fighting benefits. Human tests have not yet been done, but the results on animals were in showing a reduction in cancer cells.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil, in particular the extra-virgin olive oil, has been seen to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer according to research. It is a rich source of phenols that are useful for lowering the risk of certain types of cancer. Olive oil contains a component called oleocanthal which has been seen to kill cancer cells but not affect normal cells.
A carotenoid ingredient in tomatoes called lycopene has been the subject of research into its benefits on preventing prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men. Studies showed that cooked tomatoes are especially beneficial in preventing the disease.
If you’re used to a diet high in processed foods, fat, and sugar, then it may be difficult to change your diet. But for the good of health and your best chance against cancer, start by introducing healthy foods into your diet.
Swap sugary drinks for fruit juice diluted with water. Have an apple or banana with some peanut butter as a snack instead of biscuits. The main thing is to start to make that lifestyle change.
We all understand that cancer is a difficult beast that researchers, doctors, and scientists are fighting hard to understand better to come up with preventative measures and cures that are 100% effective.
But until then, we need to act on what we know. You can help with the fight by not smoking, lowering your alcohol intake, eating healthy foods, and eliminating dangerous foods from your diet.
- Sung, H., Ferlay, J., Siegel, R. L., Laversanne, M., Soerjomataram, I., Jemal, A., & Bray, F. (2021). Global Cancer Statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN Estimates of Incidence and Mortality Worldwide for 36 Cancers in 185 Countries. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 71(3), 209–249. https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21660
- Lewandowska, A. M., Rudzki, M., Rudzki, S., Lewandowski, T., Laskowska, B. (2019). Environmental risk factors for cancer – review paper. Ann Agric Environ Med., 26(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.26444/aaem/94299
- Nowak, A.; Zakłos-Szyda, M.; Żyżelewicz, D.; Koszucka, A.; Motyl, I. Acrylamide Decreases Cell Viability, and Provides Oxidative Stress, DNA Damage, and Apoptosis in Human Colon Adenocarcinoma Cell Line Caco-2. Molecules 2020, 25, 368. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25020368
- Donaldson M. S. (2004). Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition Journal, 3, 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-3-19