Cancers have been the leading cause of premature mortality since 2004. According to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI), 380,000 new cases of cancer were recorded in 2018. Prostate cancer is the most common among men. Among women, breast cancer remains the most common.
It is well known that a balanced lifestyle helps to stay healthy. The National Cancer Research Institute states that a diversified and balanced diet helps to prevent the risk of developing cancer during one's life. The institute points out:
On the contrary, an unbalanced diet is the cause of 19,000 new cases of cancer per year.
Which foods should be limited to reduce the risk of cancer?
One thing that should be remembered is that there are no ‘anti-cancer’ foods. However, a healthy diet helps to prevent the disease. The NCRI says:
To reduce the risk of cancer, it is important to balance your overall intake, focusing on what protects and reducing what may contribute to the development of cancer. A balanced diet also helps to limit the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
The institute recommends reducing the amount of red meat from one’s diet. Why is this? Excessive consumption of pork, veal, beef, lamb, horse, and sheep can increase the risk of cancer.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer also indicated that excessive meat intake is likely to be carcinogenic to humans. It also warned about deli meats, which are meats preserved by smoking, drying, or salting. These food products are classified as proven human carcinogens. Every year, 5,600 new cases of colon and rectal cancer are caused by excessive consumption of red meat and deli meat.
Certain cooking methods can also increase the risks. Cooking red meat at a temperature above 200°C or exposing it directly to flames when barbecuing or grilling could lead to the formation of carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic substances. The NCRI points out:
But there is limited scientific data available to conclude a relationship with the risk of stomach cancer. It is more prudent not to consume frequently, or in large quantities, calcined food.
To limit the risk of cancer, it is recommended to:
- Reduce the consumption of red meat to less than 500 grams per week, i.e., the equivalent of 3 to 4 steaks.
- Give preference to poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes.
- Reduce the consumption of deli meats to less than 150 grams per week.
Taking dietary supplements is not recommended to prevent cancer, as this may present health risks. These products may contain significant amounts of beta-carotene. This vitamin A precursor may be a risk factor for lung cancer in smokers and former smokers. In particular, it aggravates the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and increases the production of free radicals.
Which foods should be eaten to prevent cancer?
Several food categories play a protective role against cancer. This is particularly the case for products rich in fibre. It is advisable to favour legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans), vegetables, fruit, and cereal products (wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal rice) to limit the risk of developing cancer.
Eating foods rich in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Vegetables and fruit also act to prevent cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, nasopharynx, oesophagus, lung, stomach, colon, and rectum.
The NCRI recommends consuming 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. One portion is the equivalent of 80 to 100 grams, i.e., an apple, a tomato, two apricots, or a bowl of soup. However, it is better to avoid fruit juices which generally contain little fibre and are often very sweet.
Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese also have a positive impact on cancer prevention. These foods help prevent colorectal cancer. The NCRI adds:
The National Nutrition Program now recommends consuming two dairy products a day, alternating them (milk, cheese, plain yoghurt). Too low a consumption of dairy products (less than 2 products per day) could contribute to some 850 new cases of colorectal cancer per year.
Breastfeeding can also be beneficial against breast cancer in women. According to the NCRI:
Positive effects are observed beyond 6 months of breastfeeding over the course of life (all children combined).