Cancer of the colon and rectum are the third most common cancer in the world, accounting for 10 percent of cancer overall. Colorectal cancer is correlated with industrialization and is more common in higher income countries. In fact, a rise in its incidence usually coincides with the spread the western diet and lifestyle – Japan, Singapore and Eastern European countries experienced a doubling of colorectal cancer rates in the last few decades – therefore nutrition and lifestyle have always seemed to play a big part in increasing the risk for this often deadly disease.
The World Cancer Research Fund is a non-profit that funds scientific research on cancer prevention and promotes healthy living. A new authoritative report from its Continuous Update Project reviewed the current research papers (hundreds of them), weighed the evidence, and came out with an analysis of what we can all do about reducing our risk of colorectal cancer.
Reducing risk, increasing protection
The expert panel found convincing, consistent and cumulative evidence for several modifiable factors:
Probably protect against colon cancer:
• physical activityProbably increase risk of colon cancer:
• foods containing dietary fiber – the data is about fiber contained in food naturally, not fiber supplemented to food or in supplements
• garlic, milk, and calcium – evidence not as strong as the factors mentioned above, but still quite convincing
• consumption of red meat and processed meat – this is a dose-response relationship, the more red/processed meat the higher the risk
• alcoholic drinks (by men and probably by women)
• body fatness and abdominal fatness – abundant and consistent evidence that obesity, and especially increased belly fat, are a serious risk factor
For other factors the panel found that the evidence is limited and only suggestive of a cancer causing effect:
Maybe protective foods:
• non-starchy vegetables
• foods containing vitamin D
Maybe risky foods:
• Foods containing iron
• foods containing animal fats
• foods containing added sugars
A plant based diet for cancer prevention
Although cancer is a disease caused by many factors – genetic predisposition and environmental exposures to name just a few – experts agree that many cases of cancer can be prevented. Scientists estimate that by eating healthy, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight we can prevent about a third of the most common cancers.
What is healthy eating? This report, like many others points toward a more plant centered diet as the best description of what eating well is at its essence.
There is no compelling evidence to convince even me (full disclosure: I am a lifelong vegetarian) that meat in moderation causes cancer or any other disease, but there’s no doubt that half a pound of meat a day – which is what the average American eats – is way too much.
The highly processed food and fast food diet (which can easily be called the fiber-less diet) is definitely the riskiest way to eat when it comes to colorectal cancer, and it plays a role in numerous other ailments, too.
This weekend marks the official beginning of barbeque season, so how about a few more veggies on that skewer?
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