Eating healthy foods does cut your risk of cancer, a major study has found.
Food high in salt, sugar and fat resulted in cancer rates up to 11 per cent higher than those who eat healthier diets, research into nearly half a million adults found.
The research used Britain’s pioneering ‘traffic light’ food system – which makes it simple for consumers to know if foods are healthy or not.
Among the kinds of foods considered unhealthy by the study are cakes, biscuits, puddings, lasagne, tomato ketchup and red and processed meat.
The research used the British Food Standards Agency system which flags up if a food has an unhealthy level of fat, saturated fat, sugar, or salt by giving it a red, amber or green rating. Every food has an overall score.
The results found that people who ate food with healthier scores had a lower chance of cancer, while people whose food had a poorer score had a ‘higher risk of total cancer’.
Researchers at the French Institute for Health and Medical Research found cutting down your junk food intake and eating more nutritionally ‘complete’ food cuts could cut your risk of developing cancer by as much as 11 per cent
Higher cancer rates were specifically found in colon cancer, the upper digestive tract and stomach for all subjects.
Men were also more likely to get lung cancer, while women were more likely to get liver and post-menopausal breast cancer.
Lead researcher Melanie Deschasaux of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) said the results showed that the traffic light system of front of pack labels were ‘relevant’ for public health to help consumers make healthier food choices to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases.
The researchers looked at the self-reported dietary choices of 471,495 adults including more than 74,000 from the United Kingdom in Oxford and Cambridge.
The researchers said that the participants in Cambridge, as well as in France and Germany were more likely to make poor choices of food.
While those in Oxford, which included larger numbers of vegetarians as well as people living in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Norway were more ‘health conscious’.
People living in Denmark and the Netherlands were in the middle of the range.
The researchers said in the research published in PLOS Medicine: ‘In this large multinational European cohort … those consuming on average food products with a lower nutritional quality, were at higher risk of developing cancer overall.’
Professor Tom Sanders, nutrition expert at King’s College London, said: ‘The paper refers to the diets with high scores as being of low nutritional quality.
‘However, it is important to stress that diets with higher scores cannot accurately be described as nutritionally inadequate or being ‘junk food’, as high score foods include things like beef burgers and cheddar cheese.
‘Even nutritionally adequate diets (i.e. those that meet all nutrient requirements) may increase risk of cancer especially if they contain carcinogens or are eaten in excess.’
But he said that the increase in cancer of 11 per cent among people who ate unhealthy diets was less than a previous study that found a 35 per cent increased risk of cancer in a similar group.
Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University was critical of the study.
He said: ‘The association reported in this study between the nutritional quality of food that people ate and their risk of getting cancer is very weak and certainly does not justify the authors’ bold conclusions’.
EXPERTS’ 10-POINT ‘BLUEPRINT TO BEAT CANCER’
A ten-point ‘blueprint to beat cancer’ can cut the chance of getting the disease by up to 40 per cent, experts revealed at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna in May.
In the biggest analysis of its kind, experts warned junk food, ready meals and red meat should be eaten only in moderation in favour of a diet that is rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables.
The World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations are based on analysis of research involving 51 million people and 17 types of cancer.
Dr Giota Mitrou, from the WCRF said: ‘Individuals need to follow as many of these recommendations as possible, not just some of them.’
The researchers’ ten-point plan included:
Keep a healthy weight
Cut town on ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars such as pre-prepared dishes, snacks, bakery foods, desserts and sweets
No more than 3 portions of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb, a week (350-500g). Eat little, if any, processed meat
Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks, avoid fruit juice
Do not drink alcohol
Avoid dietary supplements – aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone
For mothers: breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby
Follow the above recommendations after cancer diagnosis too after checking with a health professional
Be physically active – walk more, do gardening and household chores. Sit less and reduce screen time for TV, computers, phones and tablets
Eat five portions (400g) of fruit and veg a day, particularly green leafy vegetables like broccoli, okra, aubergine and root vegetables, different colour fruit as well as wholegrains and pulses such as beans and lentils