Many factors can contribute to the development of chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer. The link between diet and cancer risk is complex. However, certain diets and food choices are associated with an increased risk of cancer. This article explains how diet can influence cancer risk.

Researchers have predicted that cancer will become the leading cause of death in every country in the world by the end of the century, making cancer prevention a top priority in health care. Although many factors can influence the risk of developing cancer, research shows that environmental causes, including food choices, can also affect cancer risk. In the early 1960s, researchers discovered that cancer rates varied from country to country and identified that specific dietary habits correlated with certain types of cancer.

They also found that cancer rates among people from countries with low cancer risk who migrated to countries with higher cancer risk matched or exceeded cancer rates in the country to which they had migrated. . This suggests that diet and lifestyle have a strong impact on cancer development. Since then, researchers have identified specific foods and eating habits that may increase the risk of certain cancers.

This article will focus primarily on food, but it is important to remember that alcohol and tobacco consumption are also important dietary risk factors known for the development of cancer.

Foods and diets linked to cancer risk

Research on diet and cancer risk is ongoing, and researchers still have a lot to learn about how food choices affect cancer risk and why.

Red and processed meats

Scientists know that there is a strong link between the consumption of processed meat and certain types of cancer. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified processed meat as a carcinogen and unprocessed red meat as “probably” carcinogenic. A 2018 review found that increasing the consumption of processed meat to around 60 grams (g) per day and red meat to 150 g per day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by around 20%.

Diets high in processed meat and red meat are also associated with an increased risk of other cancers, including stomach cancer and breast cancer.
Compounds created during high temperature cooking and smoking processes can cause cell damage, which can initiate the development of cancerous cells. Heme iron found in red and processed meats can also have a toxic effect on cells.

Ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods often contain ingredients from industrial processing, such as protein isolates, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, flavor enhancers, artificial sweeteners and thickeners. Examples of ultra-processed foods and beverages include ultra-processed sweet and savory snacks, sodas and energy drinks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products, frozen pizzas, candies, etc. .

According to health experts, diets high in ultra-processed foods, including Western diets, significantly increase the risk of certain cancers.

A 2018 study that included data from nearly 105,000 people found that increasing the dietary proportion of ultra-processed foods by 10% had associations with a significant 12% increased risk of overall cancer and increased 11% chance of developing breast cancer.

Ultra-processed foods are high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt, but low in protective nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. Ultra-processed foods also contain potentially carcinogenic compounds formed during processing, such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Certain food additives and chemical contamination from food packaging may also contribute to the increased risk of cancer associated with the consumption of ultra-processed foods.

In addition to cancer, eating ultra-processed foods is linked to many other chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as an increased risk of death from all causes. It is important to try to limit the consumption of ultra-processed products as much as possible to reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

High salt diets

A diet high in added salt may increase the risk of certain cancers, including stomach cancer. Scientists have suggested that high salt intake may increase the risk of infection caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria. H. pylori infections significantly increase the risk of stomach cancer.

In addition, the consumption of foods with a high salt content can lead to the production of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). The IARC has classified several of these compounds as “probably” carcinogenic to humans. Diets high in added salt are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including stomach cancer and esophageal cancer.

Hot drinks

Drinking hot drinks can increase the risk of cancer. The IARC has classified drinks with a temperature above 65°C as “probably” carcinogenic to humans. A 2015 review of 39 studies found that hot beverage consumption has associations with a significantly increased risk of esophageal cancer, particularly in South American and Asian populations.

The study found that people who usually drank very hot or hot drinks were nearly twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer as those who usually drank lukewarm or cold drinks. Recurrent temperature-related injury to the cells of the esophagus can lead to the development of precancerous and cancerous lesions.

Other possible dietary risk factors

IARC has identified several other dietary factors that may promote cancer progression. For example, following a high glycemic load diet may increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Glycemic load diets have a negative effect on blood sugar and can lead to chronically high insulin levels and insulin resistance. This can have a negative effect on hormone levels and lead to an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer.

High glycemic load diets are typically high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice.

Aflatoxin is a compound produced by a fungus that thrives in foods, such as nuts, grains, and dried fruits, stored in warm, humid conditions. IARC considers aflatoxin to be carcinogenic. Long-term exposure to aflatoxins is linked to an increased risk of gallbladder cancer and liver cancer. Scientists consider aflatoxin exposure to be an important risk factor for liver cancer in low-income countries, especially in people with active hepatitis, which affects the liver.

Reduce the risk of cancer and chronic disease through diet

Before looking at foods and eating habits that may protect against the development of cancer, it is essential to understand that the exercise of activities that scientists consider important risk factors for cancer, such as smoking or consumption excessive alcohol, can counteract the potential protective effects of the diet. To reduce the risk of cancer, it is essential to avoid smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, manage body weight and be active.

Researchers have found that just as certain dietary patterns can increase cancer risk, nutritional choices can also have a protective effect against cancer.

For example, the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and low in red and processed meat and ultra-processed foods, is associated with an overall protective effect against cancer and related deaths. to cancer.

Studies have shown that diets high in fruits, vegetables, and other fiber-rich plant foods offer protection against the development of cancer. This is because these foods contain compounds that help protect against cell damage. Consuming a varied diet that provides optimal amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds is essential for overall health and reducing the risk of cancer.

In addition to a diet rich in plant-based foods, reducing the consumption of red and processed meats, ultra-processed foods, added sugars and salt may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and many other chronic diseases.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.