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There are around 375,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year and more than 166,000 deaths. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that around 40 percent of cancers can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. Here is a summary of their key recommendations and a little of the science behind them.
1. Healthy weight
It is important to keep body weight within the healthy range. There is strong evidence that carrying too much weight is linked to a higher risk of developing twelve cancers including oesophageal, pancreatic, liver, and breast.
Fatty tissue in the body can cause insulin and oestrogen levels to rise which can promote the growth of cancerous cells.
2. Enjoy a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit
These foods protect against a range of cancers, including colon cancer. Recent research has shown that eating at least 30 different plant foods a week is beneficial to health.
Plant foods contain fibre and a range of phytochemicals, vitamins and other nutrients that have the potential to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Plant foods also influence the healthy microorganisms in the gut which are thought to reduce cancer risk.
3. Limit fast food and ultra-processed food from the diet
These foods tend to be high in fat, starch, and sugar. Limiting these foods helps to maintain a healthy weight.
Fast food tends to displace healthier foods from the diet. Eating a lot of processed food is linked to obesity which is a risk factor for developing cancer.
4. Limit alcohol consumption
As alcohol intake rises so too does the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, throat, liver, and colon.
Alcohol is broken down in the liver to produces acid aldehyde which is toxic and carcinogenic. Drinking a lot of alcohol can also cause inflammation in the body which promotes cancer.
5. Limit red and processed meat
Eating red[i] and process meat should be limited to no more than three times a week because it is linked to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Red meat can produce free radicals which damage the DNA in cells and lead to cancer. Processed meat also contains nitrites and nitrates that can lead to damage to cell DNA.
6. Cut down on sugar sweetened drinks
Regularly drinking sugar sweetened drinks can add up a lot of extra calories, which in turn can contribute to weight gain, a known risk factor for cancer.
7. Breastfeed your baby
Breastfeeding helps to prevent breast cancer in mums and promotes healthy growth in babies.
Breastfeeding reduces cancer risk by lowering hormones in the mother’s body. This stops periods and reduces the exposure to sex hormones. Breast feeding also protects against weight gain which in turn protects against cancer.
8. Spend less time sitting and be physically active
Being physically active means spending less time sitting down and doing more physically demanding activities like walking, gardening, swimming, running, and cycling.
Physical activity protects against cancer because it helps to reduce body weight leading to better insulin and hormone control.
And finally …...
It’s important to follow all the advice above as well as not smoking or exposing your skin too much sun. The recommendations form a joined up pattern of behaviours relating to diet and physical activity which all help to reduce your risk of developing cancer.
For more information about cancer World Cancer Research Fund
[i] Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. Processed meat includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami etc
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