Links between Cancer and Alimentation

Today is the International Day against cancer! Did you know that having a healthy diet helps reducing the risks of developing a cancer?
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Links between Cancer and Alimentation

In the pursuit of a healthy and balanced life, the relationship between our plate and the risk of cancer deserves special attention. Some foods prove to be valuable allies, while others, often present in our dietary habits, may act as triggers for this feared disease.

While tobacco remains the primary identified risk factor for cancer (20% of cases), elements directly or indirectly linked to our diet come next on the list of suspects. Is the composition of our plate a sufficient asset in protecting against cancer? Although the question seems simple, the answer is more complex. Nutrition can indeed act as both a triggering and protective element for cancer, but other factors also play a role. In the vast majority of cases, the causes of cancer are multifactorial.


Moderate alcohol consumption is sometimes touted as beneficial for cardiovascular health. However, for cancer, it can pose problems. Recent studies indicate that the risk for certain cancers increases even with alcohol consumption below 1 glass per day. For instance, the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer increases by 11% with daily alcoholic beverage consumption.

Alcohol, in general, would increase the risk of cancers such as those of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, breast, or large intestine. When combined with tobacco, these risks escalate dramatically. The ethanol in alcoholic beverages is identified as a carcinogenic substance capable of altering DNA and increasing the levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, which promote the development of certain breast cancers.

Red Meat, Processed Meats, and Cold Cuts

It's crucial to note that only poultry falls outside the category of red meats. The classification is significant because red meats pose a substantial risk factor for colon and rectum cancers. Some studies also suggest a link between the consumption of red meats and cancers of the pancreas, lungs, bladder, and breast.

Ground meats, processed meats, sausages, and cold cuts are even more harmful, mainly because they contain added carcinogenic elements during preparation, such as salt and nitrites. These processed meats increase the risks of colon and rectum cancer and could also be responsible for pancreatic and stomach cancers. It's advisable to limit red meat consumption (maximum 500 grams per week) and avoid processed meats.

Cooking Methods

The way you cook your meats is also a clearly identified risk factor. Meats and fish cooked on the barbecue are said to contain numerous carcinogenic substances. However, a significant portion of these carcinogenic molecules can be eliminated by marinating your meat and fish for at least 30 minutes.

In general, avoid burning food during cooking and keep them away from flames.

Overweight and Obesity

In some cases indirectly related to diet, overweight and obesity are also factors that favor the development of certain cancers, especially for colon, rectum, pancreas, liver, breast (after menopause), endometrium, and kidney cancers. This link between cancer and weight is also probable when the disease affects the mouth, larynx, pharynx, stomach, gall bladder, ovaries, or prostate. Overweight and obesity are also factors influencing the risks of recurrence, second cancer, and mortality.

Fruits, Vegetables, Dietary Fibers, and Dairy Products

Fortunately, not everything in our diet is detrimental! Some elements commonly found in a healthy and balanced diet are indeed beneficial in preventing cancer.

Fruits and Vegetables

Research and analyses suggest that the consumption of fruits and vegetables probably has a protective effect against cancers of the esophagus, oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, stomach, lungs (for fruits), and large intestine. This beneficial effect would also exist in preventing cases of colon, rectum, nasopharynx, and lung cancer (for vegetables). Aim for 5 servings of fruits or vegetables a day, totaling 600 grams – understanding the importance of following this advice.

Dietary Fibers

Dietary fibers found in whole grains and certain legumes are recommended to reduce the risks of colorectal cancers. These fibers trap certain molecules, including toxic and carcinogenic ones, in our digestive system.

Dairy Products

Milk and dairy products are said to play a positive role in preventing colorectal and breast cancers. Milk also protects against the risks of bladder cancer. However, be cautious: excessive consumption of dairy products, more than 3 servings per day, could increase the risk of prostate cancer.

After reading these lines, we hope that these tips will help you make informed choices in your food to assist your body in fighting against the harmful cells of cancer!

Source: Partenamut - Alimentation et cancer

Original Language: English

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