Cancer is one of the leading causes of disease and death worldwide. While treatments for cancer — including surgery, radiation therapy, and medication — are continuing to become more sophisticated, the effectiveness of these treatments can be influenced by a person’s nutrition and metabolic health. Malnutrition and loss of muscle mass are common among cancer patients and can negatively influence treatment.
What’s more, growing evidence indicates that certain dietary habits can increase or decrease a person’s risk of cancer. While no single food can prevent cancer, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way toward reducing your risk.
Continue reading to learn more about the link between diet and cancer.
It’s difficult to say for certain that a particular food causes cancer. Observational studies that look at cancer risk must follow large populations of people for many years to find patterns in their dietary habits and prevalence of the disease. However, many large studies have found a link between certain foods and higher rates of cancer.
High-glycemic diets have been linked to different types of cancer, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer, and esophageal cancer.
High-glycemic diets are high in foods that cause blood sugar to spike. These include sugar, as well as refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and baked goods. One study of nearly 48,000 adults found that those who ate a high-carbohydrate diet were almost twice as likely to have colorectal cancer than those who ate a low-glycemic diet.
When you eat high-glycemic foods, the body must produce more insulin to transport glucose into the muscles, fat, and liver. Chronically high levels of insulin are believed to be a risk factor for cancer. In addition, high insulin levels may contribute to chronic inflammation, which is associated with cancer, as well as other chronic diseases such as heart disease.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that sufficient evidence exists to classify processed meat as a carcinogen. Processed meat is meat that has undergone processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation, such as curing, smoking, or salting. Some examples are hot dogs, sausage, and beef jerky.
High-temperature cooking methods can also cause the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), compounds that increase cancer risk. Avoid well-done, blackened, and barbecued meats, which have higher levels of HCAs.
To reduce your risk of cancer, cut back on foods high in sugar, as well as refined carbs. This includes soda, sports drinks, candy, bread, pasta, and baked goods. Some other foods that are high on the glycemic index include white bread, whole wheat bread, white rice, couscous, corn flakes, and white potatoes.
Choose low-glycemic alternatives instead. Use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of pasta, and serve non-starchy vegetables in place of rice or potatoes. Riced cauliflower is a popular alternative to rice.
Some foods contain beneficial compounds that help reduce the risk of cancer. Many of these same foods also help reduce chronic inflammation. Include plenty of these in your diet:
- Citrus fruits
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, which contain important omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts, such as Brazil nuts and walnuts
- Olive oil
It’s also important to get into the habit of reading food labels. Many foods contain added sugars, which are often disguised by names such as corn syrup, cane juice, dextrose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, beet sugar, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, or fruit juice. Look for foods that use natural sweeteners such as stevia. Sugar alcohols, such as erythritol and xylitol, are safe to consume because they do not impact blood sugar levels in the same way. However, sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal issues for some people.
The ScriptSave WellRx Grocery Guidance app can help you find healthier alternatives to the foods you buy most often. Simply scan the barcode on your food package to reveal its WellRx Health Index and discover “better for you” alternatives. Download it on the App Store or Google Play today.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.