Why men need to eat more fruit and veg and women need to watch their weight.Written by Millie Barrett
A recent study published has concluded that when it comes to cancer prevention, men need to eat more fruit and veg and women really need to be a healthy weight. In fact the review has shown that 40%, (yes, that is almost half) of all cancers in the developed world are due to lifestyle choices that are entirely within our power to change i.e. smoking, drinking, not eating the right foods, and lack of exercise.
This study is particularly interesting because it has shown that certain factors, such as being overweight for women, are even more important than other factors, such as alcohol consumption, when it comes to cancer prevention. For a good synopsis of the study see this article from BBC News, and then my comments below:
"Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40% of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change."
This quote from Professor Max Parkin is, for me, the most powerful sentence in this article. Many people believe whether they get cancer or not is just a matter of either bad luck, poor genes, or a combination of the two. Genetics certainly do play a part in some cancers. However, what this study is telling us is that we do have the power to protect ourselves from cancer to a certain extent. Of course we all hear stories of people who ate healthy diets, exercised every day, never drank or smoked and still got cancer. These cases are real, and no one is denying them. However, what we now know is that if we maintain a healthy weight, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, don't smoke, and don't drink excessively, we are less likely to fall victim to cancer than if we don't do any of these things.
After smoking, well-established as the biggest risk factor for both men and women, not eating enough fruit and veg (for men), and being overweight (for women) are the next biggest risk factors. These are two things we can change relatively easily. We should all be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg per day - how many of you actually achieve that? Why not keep a diary for a week and see how well you really do? Also, some fruits and vegetables are more powerful than others when it comes to cancer protection. The Brassica family are the winners here. Do you regularly eat broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, and cauliflower? These vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane that has anti-cancer (and anti-diabetic) properties. Even if you don't eat sprouts regularly, Christmas is surely a time to enjoy them? For a great recipe using these seasonal little green powerhouses try this delicious recipe.
Women do often struggle with their weight. Around 30-40% of British women are overweight and we are the fattest in Europe - not a great league of which to be in the lead! However, taking control of your weight might be easier than you think. Small changes to the way you eat can make a significant difference over time. Many factors affect weight, not just the food we eat and the level of exercise we do. Sleep quality and hormone levels also have a role to play. For more on the link between sleep and weight see an earlier Key Nutrition article: Can poor sleep affect your weight loss goals?
If your BMI (Body Mass Index) is over 25 then you are considered to be overweight. If it's over 30 you are considered to be obese. The BMI measurement is a fairly crude tool of weight measurement as it does not take into account ethnic origin or the amount of weight that may be made up of muscle. For example, a body builder would have a very high BMI and be considered "obese" although he or she is made up mostly of muscle. A waist to hip ratio is a much better way to measure whether you are a healthy weight or not. Calculate yours here.
The best way to lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way is to follow a low Glycemic Index eating plan, combine it with regular cardio and resistance exercise, and of course to stay away from the biscuit tin! The reason diets don't work is that they are for a limited period - weight may be lost but it is so often put back on again when the diet is stopped. A much more successful weight loss plan is one that changes the way you eat for good, changing the way you think about food and replacing poor food choices with healthier and tastier ones. This is the focus of the In2Shape programme: Healthy and Sustainable Weight Loss with In2shape
Overall I find the conclusions of this research project to be encouraging. It actually gives us more incentive to change any poor habits we may have. If 40% of all cancers are due to lifestyle choices that means that with some effort on our own behalves, we could reduce the rate of cancer in this country by 40% - surely that is something to celebrate! Bring on those vegetables for the men and a healthy weight for more women.