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Can What I Eat Cause Cancer?

Doctorpedia Editorial Team Doctorpedia Editorial Team December 15, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Most people are familiar with the famous saying “you are what you eat.” The theory goes that if you eat healthy foods, you will be healthy, but if you don’t, you won’t. However, what happens if “what you are” is someone at a higher risk of developing cancer? Can a poor diet cause cancer?

The answer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is yes. In a 2011 news bulletin for the Regional Office for Europe, the WHO stated that based on a large body of research, 30% of all cancer cases could be linked to bad dietary habits. They argue that maintaining a healthy weight is the second most important factor in protecting yourself against cancer–right after quitting smoking.

 

Maintaining a healthy weight

 

One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of cancer is getting to and maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight causes the body to make and circulate more estrogen and insulin, which can stimulate cancer growth. The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to cut down on the amount of food and drink you consume that is high in calories, fat, and added sugars.

 

It would help if you also aimed to increase the amount of physical activity you do. Any exercise that makes you breathe harder than usual will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your cancer risk.

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Cancer - Prevention

Cancer - Prevention

Foods that may cause cancer

 

  • Sugar: Research has shown that increased blood glucose levels (blood sugar) from too many sugars and unrefined carbohydrates in your diet can cause cells to divide abnormally. In the case of cancer cells, this may help them to develop and spread throughout the body.
  • Low Fiber: Similarly, according to research, diets that are low in fiber and higher in fat have been shown to increase your risk of cancer compared to a diet that is higher in fiber and nutrients and lower in fat.
  • Dairy Products: There have been some observational studies into a possible link between high dairy consumption and prostate cancer. While there has been evidence of a link, more research may be needed before a definite link can be made.
  • Processed Meat: Processed meat is defined as any meat that undergoes methods to preserve it, such as curing, smoking, or salting. Examples include deli meats, ham, bacon, and hot dogs. Processed meat has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a carcinogenic substance–something that can cause cancer. According to the current research, if you eat any processed meats, you have a 20-50% greater chance of developing colon cancer than people who don’t eat them.
  • Overcooked Meat: Research has also shown that pan frying specific cuts of meat or broiling them in an oven increases the risk of causing colorectal cancer.

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Cancer - Lifestyle Risk Factors

Cancer - Lifestyle Risk Factors

Foods that may help to prevent cancer

 

  • Fruits and Vegetables: There is evidence that eating specific vegetables can help to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Many vegetables, especially cruciferous ones (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), contain cancer-fighting antioxidants. There have also been studies that have shown a link between eating fruits and vegetables and protection against developing cancer.
  • Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds have emerged as a good food source in protecting you from developing certain cancers. In cases where a patient already has developed cancer, there is evidence of flaxseeds even reducing the spread of cancer cells.
  • Fish: The healthy fats found in many types of fish may reduce the inflammation that could lead to cancer. One study showed that eating fish can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 12%.
  • Other foods: Other foods that may help prevent cancer from developing include spices like cinnamon, nuts, garlic, and olive oil. Eating beans and legumes was also found in one study to lower the risk of certain types of cancers by up to 50%.

 

According to some studies, making changes to your diet to reduce how much you eat of certain foods may help prevent cancer from developing. You can also take a more proactive approach by increasing the consumption of specific foods to prevent cancer cells from developing.

References

 

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