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cancer prevention diet

A healthy diet may help prevent some cancers. The ideal cancer prevention diet is low in fat and high in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Staying physically active and limiting alcohol are also factors to consider. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Australia. One third of all cancer deaths in Australia may be related directly to how people eat. Eating is something that people can control. Cancer accounts for 28% of deaths in men and 24% in women.

What is the information for this topic?
According to the CSIRO Anti-cancer Foundation, diet has a definite role in preventing cancer. A person should eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. At least five servings each day is recommended. Certain fruits and vegetables may protect against certain cancers. They contain phytochemicals or plant chemicals that seem to have cancer fighting properties.

Dark green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables may protect against lung cancer. These foods contain beta-carotene, which is believed to lower cancer risk. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant. Examples of these include:
  • apricots
  • broccoli
  • melons
  • carrots
  • pumpkin
  • spinach
  • sweet potatoes
  • winter squash
Citrus fruits and other fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of oesophageal and stomach cancer. These are high in vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant. These include:
  • broccoli
  • melons
  • paw paw
  • capsicum
  • kiwi fruits
  • oranges
  • potatoes with the skin
  • strawberries
  • brussel sprouts
  • tomato
The cabbage family, known as the cruciferous vegetables, may help protect against bowel cancer and stomach cancer. Members of this family include:
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • cabbage
These vegetables contain plant chemicals called indoles that are believed to be natural cancer fighters. They may specifically help reduce the risk for breast cancer.

Tomatoes and tomato-based products contain a substance called lycopene and have been linked to a lower risk of cervical, bowel, and prostate cancer.

A person should eat a variety of whole grains. These can be found in:
  • grains, such as millet and rye
  • brown rice
  • oats
  • whole wheat
Whole grains are a better choice than refined grains and should be chosen 50% of the time. Whole grains contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined grains. Whole grains and legumes have nutrients that may protect against bowel cancer. Legumes are also an ideal low-fat, high-protein substitute for high-fat meats. Legumes include dried beans and peas (e.g. baked beans and chickpeas).

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain fibre. Dietary fibre, or perhaps nutrients associated closely with it seems to play an overall role in the prevention of certain cancers.

Fatty meat should be limited. Trimmed beef, skinless poultry, beans, soy foods, and fish are good substitutes for high fat meats. Fish should be eaten at least once or twice a week because it contains polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential in the diet and may help protect against breast, bowel, oesophageal, pancreatic, and stomach cancer. Some experts agree that eating soy-based foods on a regular basis decreases the risk of breast and prostate cancer.

It is recommended that fat be reduced to 30% of a day's total kilojoules. Cutting back on butter, margarine, fried foods, and rich desserts can help. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, also known as unsaturated fats, are healthier than saturated fats and can be found in avocado, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. However, too much total fat, whether it is saturated or unsaturated, may increase the risk of breast, bowel, and prostate cancer. High-fat diets may lead to obesity, which has been linked to breast, bowel, gallbladder, and uterus cancer.

Flax seed can be a smart addition to the diet. Flax seed is the most abundant source of lignans. Lignans may protect against hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer. Flax seed is also a good source of essential fatty acids and dietary fibre.

A person should eat at least two servings of reduced fat or low fat dairy foods each day. Good choices are low-fat (skim) or reduced fat milk and low-fat yoghurt. Calcium-rich foods may help protect against bowel cancer.

Alcohol should be limited to less than 4 drinks a day for men and 2 a day for women. Experts believe alcohol increases the risk of oesophageal, liver, bowel, and oral cancer. It also increases the risk of breast cancer in women. The risk is multiplied, for some of these cancers, in drinkers who also smoke.

Limit or eliminate cured meats, which include:
  • bacon
  • ham
  • hot dogs
  • sausage
Salt-cured, smoked and grilled (charred) foods may increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Switching from coffee to tea may be a smart choice. Black and green teas have flavonoids. Flavonoids may help prevent bowel, oesophageal, skin, and stomach cancer.

Diet and physical activity is a risk factor of cancer that individuals can control. Small changes in the diet can go along way in helping to prevent cancer.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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