The link between nutrition and cancer

April 06, 2022

3 minutes of reading

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The foods we eat can affect our risk of developing certain types of cancer. Obesity can increase the risk of some types of cancer, which means that a varied diet of nutritious foods can help prevent cancer.

It is estimated that about 30% of cancer risk can be attributed to diet, which is just below tobacco smoke and far, far above any other known risk factor.

It represents the second greatest risk factor for cancer death, just below smoking.
Data source: Anand P, et al. pharmaceutical. 2008; doi: 10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9.

As health care providers, helping patients achieve and maintain a healthy weight is important to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Some of the most important cancers, including those of the breast (in women after menopause), colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, pancreas, liver and kidney, are classified as obesity-associated cancers by the WHO. Excess weight is associated with increased insulin levels, and increased body fat causes the body to produce and circulate more estrogen, both hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.

jason fung

jason fung

Unfortunately, there is considerable misinformation when it comes to nutrition. As health care providers, it is our privilege and responsibility to educate patients about the correlation between nutrition and cancer and to identify ways patients can lower their risk. Here are some topics to address as you start the conversation with your patients:

Reduce cancer risk through nutrition

The best healthy eating pattern patients can aspire to is to eat natural, unprocessed foods to avoid obesity and type 2 diabetes. Also, don’t eat constantly. The body needs some time to digest and use the energy (calories) contained in food. If you are always eating, you are always encouraging your body to store those calories. Proper nutrition is a balance between eating and fasting (anytime you’re not eating). That is why the first meal of the day is the “breakfast” meal.

Types of foods that can increase the risk of cancer

Carcinogenic foods include processed meats, alcohol, red meats, salt fish, grilled meats, and even hot beverages over 149°F or 60°C (tea and coffee are usually served at about 160-185°F or 71- 85°C). ).

There is no ‘one size fits all’ diet

There is no evidence that reducing dietary fat can reduce obesity better than other diets (DASH, Mediterranean, low-carb, etc.). Instead of relying on a specific diet, people should try to avoid obesity, which can be achieved with a variety of diets. The basics of a good diet are not controversial and are generally held to be true. Eat whole, unprocessed foods in their natural state. Don’t eat too much sugar. Avoid junk food and fast foods.

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Beware of ‘cancer-fighting foods’

There are few foods that prevent cancer. Instead of focusing on specific foods, people should work to avoid cancer risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Four Ways Patients Can Reduce Cancer Risk

Daily habits such as diet and exercise can affect your patients’ cancer risks. Research supports that poor diet and lack of physical activity are key factors that can increase a person’s risk of cancer. The good news is that you can encourage patients to reduce their risk of cancer through everyday habits. Besides quitting smoking, here are the most important steps patients can take:

  1. Achieve and stay at a healthy weight throughout life.
  2. Be physically active on a regular basis.
  3. Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
  4. Avoid or limit alcohol.

Leverage available vendor resources

In addition to the above topics to discuss with patients, there are a variety of resources to help you get started. The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) has a spectrum of tools and resources to help providers prevent and treat obesity in patients. OMA nutritional recommendations for the control of obesity supports providers in creating individualized prescriptions for patients, while the 2021 Obesity Algorithm It is a must have tool for any practice. Contains up-to-date information on the mechanisms, evaluation, and treatment of obesity, including why obesity is a disease, how obesity causes the most common metabolic diseases found in clinical practice, and how to treat obesity to reduce risk. of illness

Our knowledge of COVID-19 is always evolving, especially as it relates to chronic diseases. To learn the latest of the best in obesity treatment, join the next meeting of the Obesity Medicine Association spring conference, offered both in person in Atlanta and virtually. OMA is also offering a variety of digital tools, webinars, and educational resources for providers to help keep patients healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about OMA or to become a member, visit

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Anand P, et al. pharmaceutical. 2008; doi: 10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9.

American Cancer Society. Diet and physical activity: What is the connection with cancer? Retrieved March 25, 2022.