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Diet and cancer

Updated on February 1, 2014

It is now well recognized that a ‘healthy’ diet should contain an adequate supply of all the essential nutrients to prevent deficiency, as well as providing the right balance of these nutrients to protect against nutrition-related health problems. This article describes guidelines and provides practical advice to ensure that the diet is meeting your body's needs thus promoting health.

Maintain body weight

Obesity has been associated with increased risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer in postmenopausal women. There is also an increased risk of endometrial, uterine, ovarian and gallbladder cancers in obese women and increased risk of colon, rectal and prostate cancers in obese men.

Increase fruit and vegetable intake

A higher intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of cancer at certain sites, particularly the colon, rectum and stomach. Everyone should aim to increase their intakes of fruit and vegetables to at least three portions a day to protect against the development of some cancers. At this stage it is not known precisely which components are most important. For this reason, incorporation of a variety of types into the diet is especially important. This situation also means that advice should focus on foods rather than supplements.

Moderate intake of red and processed meat

There is some evidence of a link between consumption of red and processed meat and colorectal cancer. A reduction in meat consumption may, however, have adverse nutritional implications – in particular, iron intake may be reduced. For this reason, it is recommended that the current average intake of red and processed meat (about 90 g/day cooked weight, or 8–10 portions a week) should not rise.

Increase fiber intake

There is moderately consistent evidence that a higher intake of dietary fiber has the potential to lower the risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancer. Intakes among adults should be increased from the current average of 12 g/day to the recommended 18 g/day. There is no specific recommendation for children, but younger children need proportionally less.

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All the above recommendations should be followed in the context of a balanced diet. Additional advice was given to avoid intake of β-carotene supplements as a means of protecting against cancer and to exercise caution in the use of high-dose purified supplements of other micro-nutrients. The advice regarding β-carotene was a result of the unexpected finding in several intervention studies that supplements increased the risk of lung cancer in male smokers.

So remember:

  • Maintain your body weight
  • Increase fruits and vegetables intake
  • Eat red and processed meat moderately
  • Increase fiber inake


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      conradofontanilla 3 years ago

      Free radicals and derivatives like hydrogen peroxide and superoxide cause cancer. Some fruits and vegetables are antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and derivatives that is why they prevent cancer. Preservatives in meat like nitrite produce free radicals and derivatives like nitrosamine that cause cancer. B carotene from plants like carrot is an antioxidant. Cigarette smoke contains polonium 210 and lead 210 that are radioactive emitting x-rays that also cause cancer. They also generate free radicals.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      This is very good advice. Eating cleaner is the way to go if you want to prevent cancer and other serious illnesses. I buy mostly organic food for my family.