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Help minimise your risk of cancer and heart disease

February 1 2017


Cancer and heart disease are the two biggest killers of mankind. Every three minutes someone in the UK is struck by a heart attack. And around 980 people are diagnosed with cancer every day. But there is much we can do to minimise the risk of both; the key being to eat healthily.

Your diet and the risk of cancer

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you keep a healthy body weight. Keeping a healthy weight is important, because obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. Diet can also directly affect cancer risk. Some foods, such as processed and red meat and salt-preserved foods, can increase the risk of developing cancer, while others, such as fruits, vegetables and foods high in fibre, can reduce the risk of cancer.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of mouth, throat and lung cancer. Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre. Fruits and vegetables can also help you keep a healthy weight as they are relatively low in calories.

Strong evidence shows that eating lots of processed and red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer, and possibly stomach and pancreatic cancer.

Processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami and sausages. Red meat includes all fresh, minced and frozen beef, pork and lamb. Fresh white meat (such as chicken) and fish are not linked with an increased risk of cancer.

Scientists think there are a number of ways in which processed and red meat can increase the risk of cancer – they involve the chemicals found in these meats. Some chemicals are a natural part of the meat, and others are made when the meat is preserved or cooked at high temperatures.

Many studies show that foods high in fibre reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Foods high in fibre include fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrain foods, but the strongest evidence is for wholegrains. While the reasons for this aren’t fully understood, dietary fibre could help protect against bowel cancer in a number of ways.

Fibre increases the size of poos, dilutes their contents, and helps people poo more frequently. This reduces the amount of time harmful chemicals in the poo stay in contact with the bowel. Fibre may also help gut bacteria produce helpful chemicals that change the conditions in the bowel. All these things could help to reduce the risk of cancer.

Salt-preserved foods could increase the risk of stomach cancer. Salt-preserved foods include some pickled vegetables, salted fish and cured meats.

Salt could increase stomach cancer risk by damaging the stomach lining, which causes inflammation, or by making the stomach lining more sensitive to cancer-causing chemicals. Salt could also interact with a stomach bug called Helicobacter pylori that is linked to both stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.

You’re never too young— or too old — to take care of your heart.

Choose a healthy eating plan.  The food you eat can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.  As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat.  Select lower fat dairy products and poultry (skinless).  Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat. If you choose to eat meat, select the leanest cuts available.

Be physically active.  You can slowly work up to at least 2½ hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., jogging, running) or a combination of both every week. Learn the American Heart Association's Guidelines for Physical Activity in Adults and in Kids.

Additionally, on two or more days a week you need muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest shoulders, and arms). Children should get at least 60 minutes of activity every day.

Preventing heart disease and cancer means making smart choices now that will pay off for the rest of your life. Lack of exercise, a poor diet and other unhealthy habits can take their toll over the years. No matter what your age, everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity.


Photo by Thomas Gamstaetter via Unsplash