5 A Day for Cancer Prevention?
BY WLR DIETITIAN LYNDEL COSTAIN BSc RD
When it comes to healthy eating, one thing we have always felt sure about is the tremendous health benefits of fruit and vegetables. This week however, new research questions whether fruit and veg can reduce our cancer risk. So is it still worth fitting in our 5-a-day?
Cancer Prevention - What’s the Story?
Scientists from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York analysed information about the diet, lifestyle and cancer risk of over 400,000 people in the UK and 9 other European countries. This information had been previously collected as part of the largest ever study into the link between diet and cancer prevention, known as the EPIC study.
The health of people in the study was followed for 8 to 9 years. During this time, 30,000 people had developed cancers. The scientific team then looked for links between how many fruit and vegetables were typically eaten, and the risk of getting cancer during the 8 to 9 years. They did find a benefit to help prevent cancer in eating more fruit and veg but it was smaller than some people expected. For example, the scientists worked out that if everyone ate an extra 200g (approximately 2.5 portions) of fruit and veg every day, it would reduce the risk of developing cancer by around 3%.
What Does This Mean for Cancer Prevention?
While this might sound small, Cancer Research UK has highlighted that it translates to the possibility to prevent 7200 cases of cancer per year in the UK. In addition, the study found a “dose-response effect”. This means that the more portions of fruit and vegetables people ate, the more they reduce their risk of cancer. For example, compared to people who ate less than 2.5 portions a day, those who enjoyed their 5-a-day had a 9% reduced cancer risk.
The other key point to come out of the debate stimulated by this study, is that over the last ten years or so, more refined research has pointed to fruit and veg being more able to prevent cancer of the head, neck, lung and digestive system – with no clear protective effect for breast, prostate or ovarian cancers. As the current study looked at protection for over 200 different types of cancers it is not surprising that the overall impact is not as high as some might expect.
More good news
Fruit and vegetables, brim with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. There is still plenty of good evidence that enjoying your 5-a-day as part of a healthy diet, will:
- Help reduce the risk of heart disease
- Help reduce the risk of stroke
- Help keep blood pressure in check
- Benefit overall health.
For example, in another report linked to the EPIC study, people who ate the most fruit and vegetables were around a quarter less likely to die of chronic diseases at a given age, than people who ate very little.
Eating plenty of fruit and veg has also been linked to keeping those extra unwanted pounds at bay as we get older, especially amongst women. Fruit and vegetables are generally low in fat and calories, yet bulky and filling, making it easier to stay satisfied with fewer calories. They also look and taste great – with their endless colours, flavours and textures - think juicy, crisp, crunchy, peppery, sweet ... enjoy!