Your Diet and Cancer Risk

Your Diet Can Offer You Protection Against Cancer

green vegetables

Genetics are thought to account for only 5 to 10 percent of all cancers. And even though factors such as chemicals, pollution, and smoking play a role in cancer, the scientific literature illustrates that a better diet can offer dramatic protection against this disease.

How dramatic? One example is Fiji. A study conducted in the mid-1990s shed light on why Fiji had a high number of smokers, yet a dramatically lower incidence of lung cancer than Hawaii, where smoking rates were lower. Why? According to the study, the high consumption of green vegetables in Fiji likely provided protection against lung cancer. This study, which examined the diet and lung cancer rates in the South Pacific, hints at the power of a high-nutrient, plant-rich diet.  

There are hundreds of studies that have reported huge decreases in cancer risk with the high consumption of individual components of G-BOMBS (greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds). For example, a few individual studies have reported:

  • A 64 percent reduction in breast cancer risk in women who eat mushrooms regularly.
  • A 40 percent reduction in prostate cancer for men who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly.
  • A 56 percent reduction in colorectal cancers in those who eat onions and garlic regularly.

The Relationship Between Diet and Cancer

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, about half of all common cancers are preventable by following a healthful diet and not smoking, limiting sun exposure, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly. If everyone followed a Nutritarian diet-style and started it early enough in life, it is expected that we would experience a 90 percent reduction in our current cancer rates in the United States.

In populations that do follow a diet closer to the Nutritarian diet, this effect can be seen. Seventh-day Adventist men in California were found to have a rate of death from cancer only 60 percent that of average Americans. There are areas of the world where the populations eat more natural vegetation where the rates of common cancers have been 90 percent lower than those in the U.S.

As our nutritional requirements are met for essential nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, it fuels our cells’ natural ability to remove or destroy toxic substances, inhibit and repair DNA damage, and remove cells that are injured or abnormal before they become cancerous. The human body is an amazing self-repairing and self-healing machine.

Eating More Plant Foods

Sometimes, we see claims that a healthful diet is not very effective at preventing cancer. This is likely because, in those studies, no one eats a sufficient amount of plant food to produce a measurable amount of protection.

For substantial protection, not only does produce have to make up the vast majority of one’s calories, but also processed foods and animal products have to be accordingly reduced to low levels. The more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds you eat, and the less of all else, the much better your chances of reducing your cancer risk. Basically, as the number of fruit and vegetable servings increase, rates of cancer decrease.

A Word From Verywell

The benefits of lifestyle changes are definitely in proportion to the changes made. Regarding the relationship of diet and nutrition to cancer, the scientific evidence is there—the better your diet, the better your health.

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Article Sources
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  • Galeone C, Pelucchi C, Levi F, et al. Onion and garlic use and human cancer. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2006, 84:1027-1032.
  • Kolonel LN, Hankin JH, Whittemore AS, et al. Vegetables, fruits, legumes and prostate cancer: a multiethnic case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2000, 9:795-804.
  • Le Marchand L, Hankin JH, Bach F, et al. An ecological study of diet and lung cancer in the South Pacific. Int J Cancer 1995, 63:18-23.
  • Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, Holman CD. Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009, 124:1404-1408.