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What Is the Link between Nutrition and Cancer?

Helen Akers
By Helen Akers
Updated May 17, 2024
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The primary link between nutrition and cancer consists of the natural anti-carcinogenic properties found in fiber, fruits and vegetables. Since excess body fat promotes the growth of existing cancer cells, a diet that promotes a lean physique helps to prevent the spread of the disease. Reducing alcohol intake and increasing dietary consumption of vegetable products such as olive oil and soy also aid in the prevention of cancer.

Consumption of fiber is one major link between nutrition and cancer. Fiber helps to flush out cancer promoting substances from the body by increasing the speed with which food is digested. It is thought to aid in the elimination of bile acids which can interact with bacteria in the intestines and be transformed into cancer-promoting chemicals. Fiber binds to the acid, ensuring that it does not remain in the body. The chemical composition of the acid is neutralized by interacting with fiber.

Whole grains, legumes and dry beans are good sources of fiber. Increasing fiber intake has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer as well as breast and stomach cancer. Fiber consumption is also known to regulate estrogen levels. Higher than normal estrogen levels are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables is another documented link between nutrition and cancer. Vitamin C plays a critical role in helping to reduce throat and stomach cancer. Its antioxidant activity reduces the harmful chemicals in the body that can occur as a result of normal activity or exposure to cancer-promoting foods, such as red meat. Beta-carotene, found in carrots and dark leafy greens, is directly linked to a possible reduction in bladder, throat and mouth cancers.

Carrying around excess body fat, particularly in areas that overlap crucial organs, is a fourth link between nutrition and cancer. Diets that are high in fats promote weight gain and the storage of fatty tissue. When cancer cells are beginning to form in the body, excess fat cells actually help promote their growth. By decreasing the amount of fat in the diet, an individual decreases the chance that weight gain will occur and also promotes a healthy fat to muscle ratio.

Heavy alcohol consumption is yet another link between nutrition and cancer. Excess alcohol in the system not only causes damage to the liver, but promotes the development of breast, stomach, liver, throat, and colon cancers. A moderate amount of alcohol intake is okay and some forms are even beneficial to fighting heart disease, but it should be consumed with caution.

Vegetarian diets have been shown to drastically reduce an individual's chance of developing cancer. Due to the high intake of fiber, soy products, and fruits and vegetables, vegetarians accumulate higher levels of cancer-fighting food chemicals in their blood streams. Cancer risks for vegetarians are roughly half that of non-vegetarians.

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