How to prevent cancer

Vegetables and FruitsSix years ago the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research published the mother of all literature reviews on food, nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of cancer (1).

A panel of 21 world-renowned scientists reviewed the research evidence and drew conclusions based on in-depth analysis of over 7,000 scientific studies published on cancer prevention over the last 50 years.

As a result of this review they made a number of recommendations:

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day
  3. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks
  4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and pulses
  5. Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats
  6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 per day for men and 1 per day for women
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt
  8. Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer
  9. Do not smoke or chew tobacco
  10. Breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods
  11. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

Since then further research has been conducted to see whether compliance with these recommendations has any effect on the risk of death from cancer and other diseases.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 3 April 2013 (2).

Researchers investigated nearly 380,000 people in nine European countries over 12 years and examined their diet and lifestyle to see how closely they complied with seven of World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s (WCRF/AICR) Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.

They found that the risk of dying from several diseases, including cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases, can be reduced by 34 per cent if these recommendations are followed.

Those who most closely followed the WCRF/AICR Recommendations had a 50 per cent reduced chance of dying from respiratory disease, 44 per cent for circulatory disease and 20 per cent for cancer, when compared to the group with the lowest level of compliance.

The Recommendations with the greatest impact on reducing the risk of death from disease were being as lean as possible without becoming underweight (22 per cent reduced risk) and eating mostly plant foods (21 per cent).

In terms of cancer, limiting alcohol consumption and following the plant food recommendation reduced the risk of dying from the disease by the greatest margin, at 21 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

The study is the first to examine breastfeeding as part of a combination of lifestyle changes to see what effect it has on risk of dying.  It showed that women who breastfed for at least six months had a reduced risk of death from cancer (ten per cent) and circulatory disease (17 per cent).

Although the WRCF/AICR recommendations were focused on the prevention of cancer, this study shows that adherence to these recommendations also reduces the risk of other diseases.

The bottom line is that maintaining a lean body by consuming a predominantly plant-based diet, being physically active and minimising intake of alcohol is most likely to protect you from cancer.  Looking after yourself in this way will also help to reduce your risk of circulatory and respiratory diseases.

If you would like to learn about how to introduce more plant-based dishes into your diet why not sign up for free email updates with information, recipes and news and visit my website at http://www.cookingforhealth.biz.

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References

1. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC : AICR, 2007.

2. Adherence to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines and risk of death in Europe: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Nutrition and Cancer cohort study. Anne-Claire Vergnaud et al. 3 April 2013, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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How to lose weight

Many people resolve to go on a diet and adopt a healthier lifestyle, only to give up a few weeks later. Good intentions are often hard to put into practice and sustain. Here are a few suggestions to help you move towards and maintain a healthier weight:

1. Be realistic

Many people set themselves goals they find hard to achieve, such as fitting into a size 8 dress or a dinner jacket from 25 years ago. It is far better to begin by aiming to reduce your weight by 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. This may not turn you into a glamour model in a hurry, but it can lead to important improvements in weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Once you have achieved this goal, you can always continue and aim to lose another 5 to 10 per cent until you are happy with your weight. Breaking the target down into manageable stages increases your chance of success.

2. Be gentle on yourself

Crash diets may work in the short-term but typically people regain all the weight they have lost and even add some more. Crash diets can also be dangerous. Not only this, but it is usually miserable being on a diet. Depriving yourself of food and feeling hungry sets up cravings which can lead to binge-eating followed by feelings of guilt. Neither deprivation nor hunger are necessary to lose weight if you are willing to take time and do the right things. If you cut out just 100 calories per day, the equivalent of a single can of fizzy drink or a bedtime snack, you could lose about 10 lb (4.5 kg) in a year. If you also added a brisk walk for half an hour a day five days per week, the weight loss could increase to 20 lb (9 Kg) in a year.

3. Keep moving

Next to not smoking, regular physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and can help to control stress and boost mood. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence for a simple relationship between physical activity and weight loss is equivocal, with some studies showing that exercise helps and others suggesting that it does not, possibly due to complex interactions between physical activity, diet and genes. If moderate to vigorous over an extended period, physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, provided you do not compensate by eating more as a self-reward. You would have to walk for 98 minutes to burn off the calories in one Mars Bar or swim for 45 minutes to burn off one slice of a pepperoni pizza, for example. For general health, any amount of exercise is better than none. The more you do, though, the better. This does not have to mean joining a gym or jogging. Many activities count as exercise: dancing, skating, gardening, cycling, scrubbing floors, washing the car by hand, or playing with children. Incorporate activity into your day by taking the stairs rather than the escalator, getting off the bus one stop before your destination and walking the rest, cycling to do errands rather than taking the car, and cutting back on watching television, playing computer games and other sedentary activities. Start slowly and gradually build up to more vigorous activity when your fitness increases.

4. Keep track

Many of us eat without thinking and have no idea how much we have consumed. Such lack of awareness can result in us eating and drinking more than we plan to. Try keeping a daily food diary for a while. List everything that you eat or drink, no matter how insignificant it seems. The calories can really add up, even just with drinks – one can of Coca Cola contains 142 calories, for example.

5. Eat food as nature intended

Research shows that people who eat at fast-food restaurants more than twice a week are more likely to gain weight and show early signs of diabetes than those who only occasionally eat fast food.

Our bodies were designed to consume food in the form that nature provides, with nothing added and nothing taken away.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains all contain protein, carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre makes the food bulkier and less nutrient dense than highly processed food. This means that you have to eat a greater quantity of unprocessed food, like vegetables, to obtain the same amount of calories as highly processed foods, such as ice cream.

In the stomach and the gut, there are stretch receptors and nutrient receptors which signal to the body that it has enough food and to stop eating. If you eat highly processed foods, which are rich in calories but poor in vitamins, minerals and essential fats, such as white sugar and white bread, your body’s mechanism for signaling that it is full does not work properly – the gut is neither fully stretched nor receives the nutrients the body needs – so you carry on eating. This increases the chance of you consuming too many calories and becoming overweight, whilst not obtaining enough vitamins, minerals and essential fats.

The more unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, you include in your diet, the easier it is for your body to obtain the nutrients it needs without over-eating. Even if all you do is have porridge for breakfast instead of eating a sugary cereal or drinking strong coffee, you will find it easier to lose weight.

6. Keep your blood sugar stable

Another advantage of a food like porridge is that it has a gentle effect on blood sugar, or what’s called a low glycaemic index. When you eat porridge, glucose is released slowly and steadily into the bloodstream which helps to maintain energy levels over a longer period of time. This reduces hunger and cravings, so you tend to eat less. Other examples include whole grains such as brown rice (especially basmati), quinoa and whole-grain breads and pasta, as well as beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Eating foods that make your blood sugar and insulin levels shoot up and then crash may contribute to weight gain. Insulin tells the body to store surplus glucose as fat, so constantly excessive levels of glucose and insulin in the blood lead to weight gain. Such foods include white bread, white rice, and other highly processed grain products. So this is another good reason to increase the amount of unprocessed whole foods in your diet and reduce the amount of processed foods rich in calories.

7. Do not be afraid of good fats

Fat in a meal or in snacks such as nuts gives the food taste and helps you to feel full. Good fats, such as olive oil, have many benefits for health, including helping to improve your cholesterol levels when you eat them in place of saturated or trans fats or highly processed carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour products.

8. Drink water rather than fizzy drinks

Drinking juice or cans of sugary drinks can give you several hundred calories a day without even realising it. Several studies show that children and adults who consume sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight than those who don’t, and that switching from these to water can reduce weight.

Using artificial sweeteners in soft drinks instead of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup seems like it would sidestep any problems with weight or diabetes. Artificial sweeteners deliver zero carbohydrates, fat, and protein, so they can’t directly influence calorie intake or blood sugar. Over the short term, switching from sugar-sweetened soft drinks to diet drinks cuts calories and leads to weight loss. Long-term use, though, may be a different story.

Some long-term studies show that regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages reduces the intake of calories and promotes weight loss or maintenance. Others show no effect, while some show weight gain.

One concern about artificial sweeteners is that they uncouple sweetness and energy. Until recently, sweet taste meant sugar, and thus energy. Glucose is critical for the human brain to function, so the body has delicate feedback mechanisms involving the brain, stomach, nerves and hormones, to ensure that there is always a steady supply. When we eat something sweet, the human brain responds with signals – first with signals to eat more, and then with signals to slow down and stop eating. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners could confuse these intricate feedback loops. This could potentially throw off the body’s ability accurately to gauge how many calories are being taken in. Studies in rats support this idea. Researchers at Purdue University have shown that rats eating food sweetened with saccharin took in more calories and gained more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food. In addition, a long-term study of nearly 3,700 residents of San Antonio, Texas, showed that those who averaged three or more artificially sweetened beverages a day were more likely to have gained weight over an eight-year period than those who didn’t drink artificially sweetened beverages. At present, research findings are mixed, but there is a possibility that diet drinks may lead to weight gain in the longer term.

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References

Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: the evidence report. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Obesity Education Initiative

Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007; 39:1423–34

Pronk NP, Wing RR. Physical activity and long-term maintenance of weight loss. Obes Res. 1994 Nov;2(6):587-99

Fogelhom M, Kukkonen-Harjula K. Does physical activity prevent weight gain – a systematic review Obesity Reviews, Volume 1, Issue 2, 95–111, October 2000

Pereira MA, Kartashov AI, Ebbeling CB, et al. Fast–food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the CARDIA study): 15-year prospective analysis. Lancet. 2005; 365:36–42

Bellisle F, Drewnowski A. Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of body weight. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 61:691-700

Swithers SE, Davidson TL. A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. 2008; 122:161-173

Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008; 16:1894-1900

Frank GK, Oberndorfer TA, Simmons AN, et al. Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener. Neuroimage. 2008; 39:1559-1569

Willett, W. Eat, drink and be healthy. Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. The Free Press; Free Press Trade Pbk. Ed edition (April 2005). ISBN: 978-0743266420.

Lisle D, Goldhamer A. The Pleasure Trap – Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness.  Healthy Living Publications, 30 March 2006

Secrets of a long and healthy life

Can we discover the fountain of youth?  Some answers lie with the healthiest people on earth – the elders of Okinawa in Japan.

Okinawa has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere on the planet  – more than four times that of the UK.  Not only this, but they remain healthy and active into advanced old age.  Compared with people of the same age in the UK, Okinawan elders have an 80 per cent lower risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer, a 50 per cent lower risk of other cancers, including colon, ovarian and lymphoma, a 50 per cent lower rate of hip fracture, and a 30 to 40 per cent lower incidence of dementia.

So what are their secrets?

Secret #1 is maintain a positive, optimistic attitude.  Okinawans believe that everything in life works itself out in the long run.  With this attitude, there is no need to worry.  They intentionally live a calm, peaceful life with little stress.  When they work, it is at their own pace, rather than putting pressure on themselves to get things done in a hurry.  Experts believe this relaxed way of being is vital for health.

Secret #2 is cultivate strong relationships.  Okinawans often meet with friends and family just to chat, laugh or offer support to one another.  Endless studies have shown that people are healthier when they have good relationships and an active, positive social life.

Secret #3 is eat a very healthy diet.  It is considered especially important that the traditional Okinawa diet is both simple and wholesome.  It consists mainly of plant food – whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds – that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and fish that is rich in protein and omega-3 oils. They also eat less food than the average in countries such as the UK and USA and have a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, which means eat until 80 per cent full.  Eating a natural unprocessed diet, low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, greatly reduces their risk of health problems related to overweight and obesity.

Secret # 4 is lead an active life. Most Okinawans are physically active. They walk everywhere, work in their gardens, dance and practice traditional martial arts like tai chi.

Secret # 5 is refrain from bad habits. There are very few older Okinawans who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol

 

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Preventing cancer through diet and physical activity

A new global policy report estimates that approximately 45 percent of colon cancer cases and 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the US are preventable through diet, physical activity and weight maintenance. The report also sets out recommendations for policies to reduce the global number of cancer cases.

 

policy_report_thumb1The overall message of the report, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, published yesterday by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), is that all sections of society need to make public health, and cancer prevention in particular, a higher priority.

 

It includes estimates on the proportion of many different types of cancer that could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management. In the UK, akmost 40 per cent of the most common cancers could be prevented. That figure does not include smoking, which alone accounts for about a third of cancers.

 

Percentage of cancers that could be prevented via healthy diet, healthy weight and physical activity

 

US

UK

Brazil

China

Endometrium
(lining of the uterus)

70

56

52

34

Esophagus

69

75

60

44

Mouth, pharynx & larynx

63

67

63

44

Stomach

47

45

41

33

Colon

45

43

37

17

Pancreas

39

41

34

14

Breast

38

42

28

20

Lung

36

33

36

38

Kidney

24

19

13

8

Gallbladder

21

16

10

6

Liver

15

17

6

6

Prostate

11

20

n/a

n/a

These 12 cancers combined

34

39

30

27

 

Different Policy Recommendations For Different Groups

As part of the evidence-based report, thought to be the most comprehensive ever published on the subject, two independent teams of scientists systematically examined the evidence for how policy changes can influence the behaviours that affect cancer risk.  Following this, a panel of 23 world-renowned experts made a total of 48 recommendations, divided between nine different but often overlapping sectors of society – called “actor groups” in the report. These actor groups are: multinational bodies; civil society organizations; government; industry; media; schools; workplaces and institutions; health and other professionals; and people.

 

Among the recommendations:

  • Governments should require widespread walking and cycling routes to encourage physical activity.
  • Industry should give a higher priority for goods and services that encourage people to be active, particularly young people.
  • The food and drinks industry should make public health an explicit priority at all stages of production.
  • Schools should actively encourage physical activity and provide healthy food for children.
  • Schools, workplaces and institutions should not have unhealthy foods available in vending machines.
  • Health professionals should take a lead in giving the public information about public health, including cancer prevention.
  • People should use independent nutrition guides and food labels to make sure the food they buy for their family is healthy.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the WCRF/AICR Panel, said,

When people think of policy reports, they often think they only speak to governments. But the evidence shows that when it comes to cancer prevention, all groups in society have a vital role to play.

Panel member Tim Byers, MD, MPH of the University of Colorado Denver said,

Estimating cancer preventability is a very complex prospect that involves making a number of assumptions. Having said that, the figures in this report are as good an estimate it is possible to achieve about the proportion of cancer cases that could be prevented through healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. On a global level every year, there are millions of cancer cases that could have been prevented. This is why we need to act now before the situation gets even worse.

The report also includes preventability estimates for the UK (which, like the US, is considered a high-income country), as well as for China and Brazil, which respectively represent low and middle-income countries.

 

Policy Report Represents the Next Step

The new WCRF/AICR Policy Report is a companion document to the expert report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, which was published by AICR and WCRF in November of 2007. That expert report evaluated the scientific evidence from over 7000 studies and came away with 10 recommendations for lowering cancer risk.

The 2007 expert report identified the specific choices that people can make to protect themselves against cancer, but actually making those healthy choices remains difficult for many people,” said policy report panel member Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The policy report takes the next step – it identifies opportunities for us as a society to make those choices easier.

More information, including video interviews with panel members, Q and A documents, and other background materials, is available at: http://www.aicr.org/policy

Learn how to cook delicious food to boost your immune system and protect yourself and your family from cancer and other chronic diseases at Cooking for Health courses held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.