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How not to get cancer

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An at-a-glance guide to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s strategies for avoiding the Big C

Cancer isn’t always a disease that just strikes at random. Up to 40 per cent of cases are avoidable just by eating healthily, exercising and not putting on too much weight, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

But even that estimate may be too conservative. Only 20 per cent of cancers are genetic-and even then it isn’t a death sentence, as the new science of epigenetics shows that the DNA code can be overwritten by smart lifestyle choices-and it doesn’t take into account the importance that stress plays in many chronic diseases, including cancer.

There are around 200 kinds of cancer and some preventative measures may be more helpful than others, but here are the main lifestyle changes to introduce that can help keep the Big C at bay.

We’d add at least two more: filter your water and clear your shelves of toxic chemicals and toiletries.


The type of food you eat is important.Choose a predominantly plant-based diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses (legumes) and minimally processed, starchy staple foods.

Eat more vegetables and fruits.Aim for 400-800 g (15-30 oz) or five or more portions (servings) a day of a variety of vegetables and fruits all year round.

Other plant foods are also important.Eat 600-800 g (20-30 oz) or more than seven portions (servings) a day of a variety of cereals or grains, pulses (legumes), roots, tubers and plantain. Choose minimally processed foods whenever possible and limit your consumption of refined sugar.

Be choosy about meat.If eaten at all, limit intakes of red meat to less than 80 g (3 oz) daily. It is preferable to choose fish, poultry or meat from non-domesticated animals instead of red meat.

Snack on healthy foodslike nuts.

Limit consumption of fatty foods,especially those of animal origin. Choose modest amounts of the appropriate vegetable oils.

Minimize the amount of dairy you eat.

Detox once a year,or go on a 48-hour fast and just sip fruit juice.

Limit consumption of salted foodsand the use of table salt while cooking. Instead, consider using herbs and spices to season foods.

Store perishable foods carefullyto minimize fungal contamination. Use refrigeration and other appropriate methods, and never eat food that, because of prolonged storage at room temperatures, is liable to be contaminated by fungal toxins.

Watch out for additives and residues.While levels of synthetic additives and pesticide residues are officially considered ‘low’ in our foods, err on the side of caution whenever you can. Sausages, bacon and other processed foods contain nitrates, so eat these sparingly. Prepare your foods yourself and eat organic as much as possible.

Cook with low temperatures.Do not eat charred food, and meat- and fish-eaters should avoid burning meat juices. Grill (broil) meat and fish over a direct flame, and eat cured and smoked meats only occasionally.


The supplements you should take to prevent cancer depend on your gender and age, but some of the more important ones are:

vitamin C(as calcium or magnesium ascorbate)


zinc(as gluconate, citrate or orotate)


vitamin B

vitamin E(gamma- and delta-tocopherols, but not alpha-tocopherol).


Maintain a normal body weight. Avoid being either underweight or overweight and limit weight gain during adulthood to less than 5 kg (11 lb).

Stay active.If your job is largely sedentary, take an hour’s brisk walk or similar exercise daily, and exercise vigorously for at least one hour a week.

Alcohol consumption is not recommended. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to every few days. Give your body days of ‘rest’ between drink days.

Don’t smoke.It’s undeniably bad for you.

Get some sun. Yes, we know that excessive sunbathing-especially when you soak up the midday sun until your skin gets red and burnt-is bad for you and may even trigger skin cancer, but avoiding sunshine altogether isn’t good for you either. You need at least 15 minutes of sun on your skin every day if possible-which can be difficult if you live in a northern clime like the UK-but it helps the important processes in the body that keep us healthy.


Don’t forget your ‘inner self’.Stress in its many forms can impair the immune system more than a poor diet does.

Don’t live a solitary life.Find a social group you can join, whether it’s the local church or the amateur drama society.

Meditateor use some other mind relaxation technique like visualization.

Don’t deny yourself.Do the things you’ve always wanted to but always put off because of family or other responsibilities.

When you feel overwhelmed, seek help from a friend or counsellor. Whether the problem is debt, work issues or a loss of interest in life, it’s important to tell someone. Anything that seems relentless with no way out is exactly the sort of stress that leads to cancer.

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Article Topics: nutrition
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