Simple changes in our eating habits can reduce risk for certain cancers

Did it ever occur to you that your eating habits could determine your risk for several common cancers? Just as bad eating can contribute to heart diseases or diabetes, unhealthy eating habits, certain foods and cooking methods are likely to increase one’s risk for developing cancers.

Given the numerous and diverse food combinations eaten by man all over the world, the varied methods of cooking and the fact that there are about 200 types of cancers, it certainly is a cumbersome task for scientists to define the relevance of diet in cancer. Meanwhile, with an upsurge of cancer incidences, the question to ask is, does something we eat too much of, or omit from our diet, cause cancer? Based on facts presently available, here are some eating inclinations that increase cancer risk.

High calorie diet: Consistently eating a diet of fatty foods leads to being overweight or obese, which increases incidence of cancers of the pancreas, gall bladder, bowel, breast (in post menopausal women), kidney, uterus, prostate and oesophagus.

Lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet: UK studies show that fifty per cent of the cancers associated with bad diet are said to be related to eating less than five fruits a day. Eating five fruits daily seems to protect us against cancers of the prostate and upper digestive tract – mouth, oesophagus and stomach.

Lack of fibre: A European cancer study (EPIC) shows that lack of fibre from whole grains, lentils, vegetables and fruits is strongly linked with bowel cancer. Those who eat a high fibre diet seem to have a 40 per cent lesser risk for bowel cancer than those who eat a low fibre diet. Ideally an adult needs 10 to 12 gm of fibre for every 1,000 kcal per day.

Red meats, processed meats: Red meat is beef, veal, pork, lamb and goat, both fresh and frozen. Processed meats are all kinds of meat that have undergone some mode of preserving or smoking — ham, bacon, sausages, canned meat/fish/chicken, salami, corned beef, pâté etc. There is strong evidence that eating more than 90 gm of these foods daily leads to bowel and stomach cancers and possibly of the prostate.

Cured meats & pickles: Cured and salted meats and fish with their heavy salt content when eaten regularly, as in a Japanese diet, may lead to stomach cancer. A study done in India a few years ago confirmed that eating pickled foods poses a high risk for stomach cancer.

Cooking methods: Very high or prolonged heat or direct heat used for cooking red meat produces certain chemicals that are carcinogenic. An example is barbequing of red meats and processed meats. Acrylamides, a suspected carcinogen, are natural chemicals produced in cooking and also found in processed grain products such as breakfast cereals, biscuits and toasted breads. Deep frying of carbohydrate foods highly increase acrylamides.

(The author is a nutritionist)