Eat More Whole Grains and Healthy Dairy — and Ditch the Processed Meat — to Reduce Cancer Risk

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Making some easy tweaks to your diet is one way for you to reduce your risk of cancer risk in the long-term, according to a study published this week by the Oxford University Press. Researchers concluded that eating a poor diet was responsible for 80,000 diagnoses of cancer in 2015 in the United States, accounting for nearly 1 in 20 of all cancer diagnoses in adults. A majority of these cancers were directly attributable to dietary consumption habits.

After taking a careful look at the data, the researchers for this latest study determined that the top three most detrimental aspects of our diets are not eating enough whole grains, having a low dairy intake, and eating too much processed meat. Overall, not getting enough whole grains poses the biggest health risk to the general population, in terms of preventable, diet-related cancers, with nearly double the influence of either dairy or processed meat intake. Researchers honed in on some specifics, too, in terms of how diets affect different demographics. As with so many health-related issues in America, there’s a racial disparity in the data: Latino and black populations face a higher risk than other population groups of developing a diet-related cancer. The study also found that older men face a relatively high risk of developing cancer due to their consumption habits.

Colorectal cancers made up a significant proportion of the diet-related cancer diagnoses covered in the study; colorectal cancer risk has been linked in previous studies to processed meat and whole grain consumption.

Buckwheat Garden Salad BeLatina Healthy Habits
Photo / Recipe Credit TheHealthyfoodie.com

This study shows suggests that poor diets — diets that don’t match our daily recommended intake of food groups and nutrients — also put us at risk for developing other cancers, including cancers of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx, post-menopausal breast cancer… if you recall, some of the very same diagnoses that were linked to alcohol consumption in the bombshell 2017 study that challenged our understanding of what it means to drink in moderation.

It might feel like we’re getting hit with yet another study scolding us over our eating habits, but the data reveals something quite hopeful and clear: “[Diet] is among the few modifiable risk factors for cancer prevention,” lead study author Fang Fang Zhang told CNN. In fact, Zhang’s research found that diet is even more influential to your long-term cancer risk than exercise. In other words, these studies are worth following because they remind us that we can make simple choices that have an outsize effect on our health, for better or for worse.