Some eating habits, such as eating plenty of vegetables, reduce the risk of cancer, while others, such as using a lot of meat products, increase it.
Diet is a whole entity that is made up of individual, everyday choices. Even small decisions are accentuated in the long run.
It is ultimately difficult to estimate the degree to which having a healthy diet can prevent cancer, or how far unhealthy eating furthers the development of cancer. Eating involves many things, from food ingredients to eating habits and weight management. Calculating these things together is not straightforward.
However, experts have estimated that, by and large, with healthy food, weight management, and enough exercise we can prevent at least a third of the most common forms of cancer. Healthy eating also protects against many illnesses and helps you manage better day-to-day.
What kind of cancer does food protects us from, and what kind does it cause?
What and how we eat is linked to many cancer risks.
Eating affects the risk of cancer through many different mechanisms:
- Some nutritional factors, such as meat products, can place one at risk of cancer
- Carcinogens may be present in food due to contamination or impurities, for instance some aflatoxins, produced by moulds, that may also be in such things as nuts
- Carcinogenic compounds may develop in food preparation, such as frying
- Absent or insufficient nutritional factors in diet that protect against cancer, such as vegetables
- Overweight increases the risk of certain types of cancer. Nutrition is an essential factor in weigh management
- Your overall diet is nevertheless more essential than single nutrients.
The food we eat each day is one of the most crucial areas whereby we can make a difference to our health. Healthy nutritional habits protect us from many illnesses and enable us to manage better day-to-day. Unhealthy eating habits, in turn, put us at risk of a variety of illnesses.
Apart from cancer, what we eat is linked to other diseases of public health importance, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and blood pressure. Effects of diet include also other diseases that target the nervous system, alimentary canal, and the mouth and teeth.
“Healthy diet is the foundation of weight management.”
Maintaining a normal weight is the cornerstone of our wellbeing, and helps us avoid getting a range of diseases. A healthy diet is the foundation of weight management. Your weight decreases when you use more energy than is provided by food and drink. So, avoid food and drink that are high in fat and/or sugar, and substitute them for fruit and vegetables that are low in energy.
Exercise is a good support in weight management. Healthy diet and exercise is an effective combination. Read more:
Nutrition also plays an important part in our mental health. Healthy diet provides protection against depression and memory loss.
There are a few clear guidelines concerning eating and cancer prevention, even though there is also plenty of activity concerning dietary experiments and special diets.
It’s important to opt for a varied diet that contains plenty of vegetables and whole grain. It is good to limit your intake of red meat and especially processed meat, as well as salt. You should avoid high-energy food, meaning food that contains a lot of fat or sugar.
“The healthy plate model allows you to get nutrition and energy from food in appropriate proportions.”
Though some foods have been proven to affect the risk of cancer, it is not good to focus too much, say, on a single type of vegetable such as onions.
You can put together a healthy and varied meal by following the healthy plate model. Cover half the plate with vegetables, a quarter with potato, wholegrain or pasta, and the last quarter with fish, white meat, or high protein plant based food. The healthy plate model allows you to get nutrition and energy from food in appropriate proportions.
Studies show that various nutritional supplements do not help protect against cancer. You can usually obtain sufficient essential nutrients from having a varied diet. Supplements, in the form of vitamin and trace minerals and natural products, are not as a rule necessary. An exception in Finland is vitamin D, which is good to use in line with recommendations particularly in winter.
We all eat several times a day throughout our lives. That’s why you can affect your health through just small choices. The significance of your daily choices becomes accentuated in the long run.
You can succeed in changing to a healthier diet by making individual, seemingly small, changes. Gradually, your healthy diet will become a smooth-running lifestyle.
Put colours on your plate
Fruit and vegetables effectively protect against cancer. Eat different coloured fruit and vegetables, as the colours they contain a variety of anti-cancer compounds, such as polyphenols and antioxidants.
The aim in terms of quantity is for half a kilo a day, but every addition to this is good. Potatoes don’t count, but come in addition to other vegetables. The quantity of vegetables increases if you try to include them in every meal.
These tips can help you increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet
- Start by doubling your daily intake of fruit and veg. If you don’t eat any at all, start off eating just a handful a day.
- Try one new vegetable every week.
- Eat fruit instead of sweet treats.
- Eat as wide a range of fruit and veg as possible, so you don’t get bored with them.
- Peel and chop fruit and veg to put in the fridge to snack on.
- Buy fruit and veg according to season, when they are most affordable. Harvest Season Calendar
- Use frozen fruit and veg too. Freezing hardly affects their nutrient content.
- Eat veg raw boiled, steamed, as salads, and as warm side dishes.
- Add fruit and veg to familiar recipes, for instance broccoli or spinach to mashed potato, grated root veg to bread dough. Make berry and fruit milkshakes or green smoothies. Change regular chips for kale chips
- Gradually increase the amounts of fruit and veg, so that you eat them at every meal and for snacks.
An adult should eat 25 – 35 grams of dietary fibre a day. You get fibre from such things as fruit and veg, seeds, and whole grain porridge and bread. Whole wheat bread is an excellent source of fibre. For instance, one slice of rye bread can contain 4 grams of fibre.
You can get enough fibre when you eat
- porridge oats for breakfast, and 100 grams of berries, and a slice of rye bread
- whole grain rice for lunch with 100 grams of carrot and broccoli
- an apple for a snack and a good handful on nuts
- two potatoes for dinner, with 200 grams of salad and a slice of whole grain
Less red meat
Meat is a good source of protein and iron, but you try to avoid red meat. You should not eat more than 500 grams (cooked weight) of it a week. Preferably, opt for fish, chicken and turkey or protein rich vegetarian food containing as beans and nuts, for example.
Foreign sources and information:
Cancer preventability estimates for diet, nutrition, body fatness, and physical activity, World Cancer Research Fund International
Cooked meats fact sheet, National Cancer Institute
Diet and Cancer, Cancer Research UK
Healthy Diet, European Code Against Cancer (IARC)
Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat, WHO