Study finds thousands of cancer cases linked to poor diet alone

May 24, 2019 | by Samantha Bonar

Quinoa and black beans High-fiber foods can help prevent cancer
About 5% of cancer cases are attributable mainly to a poor diet, according to a new study published May 22.
 
This translated to 80,110 new cancer cases among adults 20 and older in the United States in 2015. This risk factor is comparable to the proportion of cancer cases attributable to alcohol consumption, the study’s authors said.
 
The effect of a bad diet was highest on digestive system cancers, with more than a third of colorectal cancers, 38.3%, linked to poor eating habits. The Tufts University study was published in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum.
 
“This is a pretty comprehensive report that supports what we’ve been thinking,” said Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at City of Hope. “Most of the diet-associated cancers occur in the digestive tract and are due to a lack of fiber.”
 
Scientists looked at seven dietary factors: low intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy products; and high intake of processed meats, red meats and sugary beverages like soda.
 
They found that low whole-grain consumption was associated with the largest cancer burden in the U.S., followed by low dairy intake, high processed-meat intake, low vegetable and fruit intake, high red meat intake and high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.
 
The study included data on the diets of adults in the United States between 2013 and 2016 that came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as data on national cancer incidence in 2015 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whole Grains Are Key

Low consumption of whole grains and dairy products and high consumption of processed meats contributed to the highest cancer burden. Men aged 45 to 64 years and ethnic minorities, including blacks and Hispanics, had the highest proportion of diet-associated cancers compared with other groups, the researchers found.
 
“Fiber is very important,” Chen said. “It makes the colon work, which helps keep stuff from accumulating there and helps prevent polyps. Dairy products are also very important because they contain a lot of different nutrients. Highly processed foods, like processed meats, don’t require a lot of digestion and also are lacking in nutrients. Vegetables and fruits have phytochemicals and also a lot of fiber. It comes down to nutrients and fiber.”
 
“I personally think we do need some meat for the protein, which is very important for our immune system,” Chen added. “Chicken or fish are preferable to red meat. Diversifying your diet is the most important thing. You don’t need to look for a special kind of food, just eat different types of food. Don’t just grab fast food. Pay attention to what you eat.”

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