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Cancer kills millions of people every year despite the billions raised, invested and spent on cancer research. The stubborn statistics do not show any signs of changing anytime soon. However, green shoots have emerged in the domain of diet.
Increasingly, evidence suggests you can modify your risk of cancer and particular dietary components may even have preventative potential.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Doctor Shireen Kassam, Consultant Haematologist, and Certified Lifestyle Medicine Doctor, extolled the virtues of a plant-based approach.
Doctor Kassam cited the World Cancer Research Fund guidelines for cancer prevention, which “clearly states that an optimal diet for cancer prevention is one that is based in roughly equal proportion of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and beans, whilst minimising processed foods and red and processed meats”.
She ascribed the preventative potential of plant foods to their “fibre and an array of vitamins, minerals and other plant chemicals that work in synergy in the body and this way of eating has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer”.
The doc continued: “Focusing on a variety of different coloured plant foods promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which is also key for preventing cancer.”
Reputable health bodies agree with this assessment. Fibre in particular has shown promise in preventing cancer.
The Mayo Clinic says one way “plant-based foods may prevent cancer is by boosting fibre consumption”.
It cites a study which found young women who ate the most fibre-rich diets were 25 percent less likely to get breast cancer later in life.
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“Other research finds that each 10 grams of daily fibre could lower the risk of colorectal cancer by 10 percent,” the health body reports.
The ills of eating red and processed meat further bolsters the association.
For example, many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
One notable study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, investigated whether people who eat an average of 76 grams of processed and red meat a day – approximately three slices of ham – are still at increased risk of bowel cancer.
The study analysed data from half a million UK adults over almost seven years and found that moderate processed and red meat eaters – those eating 79g per day on average – had a 32 percent increased risk of bowel cancer compared to people eating less than 11g of red and processed meat daily.
To put this in context, for every 10,000 people in the study who ate less than 11 grams of red and processed meat a day, 45 were diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Eating 79 grams of red and processed meat a day caused 14 extra cases of bowel cancer per 10,000 people.
However, more evidence is needed before definitive conclusions about the benefits of plant-based diets can be made.
Worldwide Cancer Research says: “Currently, there is not enough evidence to definitively say that a vegetarian or vegan diet reduces the risk of dying of cancer.”
There is some evidence that abstaining from meat might help to prevent certain types of cancer from occurring in the first place, “however several meta-analyses on this effect have failed to show a clear answer to this question and more research will be needed”, the health body says.
“Other studies have found that people eating a vegetarian or vegan diet may be less likely to present other health risks, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, which are implicated in many health conditions.”
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