Cancer and Diet – What’s the Connection

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Cancer and Diet – What’s the Connection

Cancer and Diet – What’s the Connection

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Simple lifestyle changes, like a healthy diet, could prevent 30 to 50% of all cancers. Diet can play a vital role in increasing your immunity and even help you successfully go through cancer treatment. 

Food that can Increase Cancer Risk

Sugar and Refined Carbs

Processed foods that are high in sugar, low in fibre and nutrients and a diet that increases blood glucose levels -can increase the risk of cancer, like stomach, breast and colorectal cancers. High levels of insulin can lead to the growth of abnormal cells and can cause cancer. For eg. increased cancer risk among diabetes patients. So to protect against cancer, people should avoid food items high in sugar, refined carbs and items that boost insulin levels. 

Processed Meat

Processed meat means meat that has been preserved by adding salt, by curing or smoking. Some examples are -ham, bacon, hot dogs, salami and pre-cooked meat (meat that is sold in a semi-cooked form). 20 to 50% of people who consume processed meat are at risk to have colorectal cancer. Additionally, red meat intake also increases cancer risks by 19-21%.

 OverCooked Food

Cooking at high temperatures, such as grilling, frying, broiling and barbecuing, will produce harmful compounds, this can cause inflammation and develop cancer and other diseases. Foods high in fat and protein like red meat, certain cheeses, fried eggs, butter, cream cheese, mayonnaise, oils and nuts can cause cancer. To minimise cancer risk, avoid burning food, instead try steaming, boiling and marinating food. 


Dairy consumption may increase prostate cancer. Intake of whole milk is risky because of the high content level of calcium, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) or estrogen hormones from pregnant cows- all these are linked to prostate cancer.

Obesity – Overweight

Apart from smoking, obesity is another risk factor for cancer worldwide. It can cause cancers like– oesophagus, colon, pancreas, kidney and breast cancer after menopause. 

Obesity causes cancer in three ways-

1) Excess body fat leads to insulin resistance. So cells cannot take glucose properly and the cells divide faster.

2) Obese people have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines in their blood and cells divide faster. 

3) Fat cells increase estrogen levels and increase breast and ovarian cancer after menopause in women.


Foods that Contain Cancer Fighting Properties 

There is no such special food that can prevent cancer. Eating a balanced diet can reduce up to 70%  risk and can help in recovery from cancer. Certain foods can fight cancer by blocking blood vessels.

Cancer Fighting Food Groups are:


Higher consumption of vegetables is a lower risk of causing cancer. 

Cancer fighting Vegetables

1) The vegetables are– broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cooked drumstick and neem. 

2) Tomatoes and carrots decrease the risk of prostate, stomach and lung cancer. Carrots have a variety of medicinal properties and reduce the risk of breast, colon, rectum and lung cancers.

3) Green vegetables, garlic and onions reduce stomach, prostate and colorectal cancers.

4) In these fruits and vegetables Vitamins A, C and E are found and reduce the risk.


Fruits also help to prevent cancer. 

Amla, jackfruit and pomegranate -have high levels of nutrients and protect against cancer.

Three servings of citrus per week reduce stomach cancer.

Intake of vegetables and fruits regularly protects against cancer and can reduce lung cancer, stomach, oral cavity, colon, pancreas and pharynx cancers.

There are two types of fibres -soluble and Insoluble fibres. Soluble fibres are found in fruits and vegetables and oats. This reduces the risk of colon cancer. On the other hand, Insoluble fibres are found in wheat and rice. Insoluble grain fibre decreases the risk of cancer than soluble fibres.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that healthy persons must take 20 to 30g of dietary fibre every day.


Flaxseeds protect certain cancers and also reduce the spread of cancer cells. Men with prostate cancer, if they take 30gms of ground flaxseeds daily, it lowers the cancer growth, similarly for women with breast cancer. Flaxseeds provide all the nutrients necessary. Flaxseeds also reduce metastasis and tumour growth rate. 


1) Cinnamon has anti-cancer properties and can prevent 60% of the cancer cells from spreading.

2) Turmeric, 4gms of turmeric can reduce cancerous lesions in the colon by 40% for patients who are receiving treatment.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes (root vegetables) are high in fibre and protect against colorectal cancer.


64% of people who eat nuts are at low risk of getting certain cancers.

Consumption of Olive oil, garlic and fish help in reducing cancer risk.

Precautionary Measures

Diet is one of the most important factors for the formation and prevention of cancer. For this, two dietary goals have to be followed

  1. In the total calories taken the fat content should not be more than 30%.
  2. The consumption of carbohydrate and fibre rich foods should be doubled by increasing fruit and vegetable to five servings per day.

Apart from these for alcoholic beverages, the dose is less than 40g per day. Vitamin C and Vitamin E should also be taken.

Foods to be Taken by Cancer Patients

Right food should be taken by a cancer patient-

1)Vegetables: Tomatoes, carrots, peas, pumpkin, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bitter gourd and green leafy vegetables.

2)Fruits: Oranges, bananas, kiwi, peaches, mangoes, pears, strawberries, guava, figs, apricots, prunes and raisins.

3)Proteins: Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts, dried beans, dals, peas, soy foods.

4)Carbohydrates:  Rice, noodles, chapati, whole grain bread, pasta, oats, corn, potatoes, beans and dairy products and honey.

Awareness: With the increasing number of patients surviving cancer due to early detection and better treatments, there is a growing interest in people to change their lifestyle and diet to reduce the long term effects of cancer. They are aware that a healthy diet, with limited intake of high-calorie foods, red meat and processed meats can help prevent cancer. They are aware that the Internet and books provide a lot of information regarding cancer and diet connection. Counselling by the treating doctor also helped a number of patients. So, patients are aware that what one eats is really important for cancer patients, that body needs enough calories and nutrients to stay strong.

Before Treatment: Even before treatment starts, the patient must focus on healthy foods. Planning also helps.

During Treatment: Though one may not feel hungry, they should drink plenty of liquids all day; water, fresh fruit juice and stay hydrated. Have small healthy snacks. Soup also helps. Before chemotherapy, have a snack or small meal right before the session, this helps to keep nausea away.

The best is to stick to a balanced diet with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Also limit sugar, caffeine, and salt and alcohol consumption.