Diet to Prevent Cancer

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Robert Maurer

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" first part

Tumors of the Digestive System

As we saw in the first part of the article, most diet-influenced cancers affect the digestive system; in addition, cancers of the breast, prostate and endometrium are also involved.
Below we will make some useful considerations on cancers of the digestive system, necessary to understand the FUNDAMENTAL aspects of the diet to prevent these cancers.
We will focus on dietary and behavioral factors predisposing neoplastic diseases (leaving out the others such as comorbidities, genetics, etc.).
Basically, we will summarize everything you should AVOID in your diet to prevent cancer.

Tumor of the esophagus

What is there to know about esophageal cancer? Dietary and behavioral risk factors for esophageal cancer
It is insidious because it is asymptomatic. In 10-20% of cases it provides a neoplastic syndrome that has nothing to do with the location or type of neoplasm. Dietary prevention is essential and in case of suspicion it is necessary to perform a histological sampling. Nitrosamine intake, nutritional deficiency of iron and magnesium, vitamin A deficiency, achalasia, neglected infections (HPV and Helicobacter pylori), alcohol abuse, smoking, Barret's esophagus.
Important! For the onset of cancer of the esophagus seem to have particular importance: the association of smoking and alcoholic abuse
Barret's esophagus; it can be congenital, but in most cases it is triggered by the neglect of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). See also Diet for Gastroesophageal Reflux

Stomach cancer

What is there to know about stomach cancer? Dietary and behavioral risk factors for stomach cancer
It is dangerous, because it shows symptoms similar to other stomach diseases and overlaps with other malignant forms. It is the second leading cause of death in your country and shows itself more in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Exposure to environmental pollutants and in the workplace (hydrocarbons, silicon, iron, asbestos, etc.), smoking, excess fat, salty and smoked foods, rich in nitrites and nitrates (therefore nitrosamines), alcohol abuse, cooked meat grilled (toasted), diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, poor storage of refrigerated foods (presence of potentially toxic microorganisms), neglected infection by Helicobacter pylori, chronic gastritis, pernicious anemia.
Important! It can be triggered by the neglect of gastritis; It is therefore necessary to keep in mind that the risk factors for this pathology and for the ulcer can also play a decisive role (such as the abuse of drugs such as NSAIDs and antibiotics, especially on an empty stomach). Read also Diet for Gastritis

Cancer of the pancreas

What is there to know about pancreatic cancer? Dietary and behavioral risk factors for pancreatic cancer
It is the worst of neoplasms, but infrequent. At the first symptoms, the diagnosis is almost always too late. Smoking, chronic pancreatitis, diet rich in animal proteins and fats, diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables, alcohol abuse, excess coffee, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, cholecystectomy and gastrectomy, pollutants in the environment and in the workplace ( residues from coal processing, metals (especially heavy), gases, solvents, radioactive material.
Important! The strong correlation with diabetes, obesity, cholecystectomy and gastrectomy requires taking into account all behavioral risk factors for these pathologies. Read also Diabetes Diet, Gallbladder Diet and Stones and Gastritis Diet.


What is there to know about hepatocarcinoma? Dietary and behavioral risk factors for hepatocellular cancer
The most common forms (90%) are those due to degeneration by viral infection and cirrhosis. HBV and HCV infection, exposure to Aspergillus flavus aflatoxins (variety B1), Schistosoma and Echinococcus parasitosis, alcohol abuse and steatosis which evolves into alcoholic liver cirrhosis, food abuse (especially junk foods) and steatosis, which evolves into dietary liver cirrhosis, diet rich in nitrosamines, smoking, abuse of anabolic steroids (especially in sports), in the past the use of some high-dose contraceptives, vinyl chloride, dangerously low-protein and prolonged diet (but the correlation is not clear ).
Important! While hepatitis B and C are not of food etiology, aflatoxin intoxication is caused by the intake of grains and poorly stored derivatives. Schistosoma and Echinococcus infestation may also be due to poor food hygiene and fecal-oral contamination. For the treatment of steatosis and the prevention of alcoholic and alimentary cirrhosis read Diet and Fatty Liver.

Colon cancer

What is there to know about colon cancer? Dietary and behavioral risk factors for colon cancer
It is very popular. In 82% of cases it is due to lifestyle, but if there is a congenital basis (also linked to precancerous forms such as polyps) heredity plays an extremely important role. Diet rich in animal proteins and fats such as those contained in all milk fat derivatives (despite the fact that butyric acid has a theoretically positive effect on the intestine), eggs, pork, sausages and cured meats, a high-calorie diet, diet lacking in vegetables (low in fiber, with few antioxidants and folates), sedentary lifestyle, alcohol abuse, smoking and exposure to certain pollutants (especially pesticides).
Important! Constipation is not directly related to colon cancer, but the diet that can be responsible for it is. Read Diet and Constipation.

Milk, Calcium and Cancer

Milk and tumors

In the past, it was hypothesized that milk could have a predisposing effect on cancer of the large intestine. Both recent studies and scientific reviews have totally disproved this theory.
Unlike the fatty and / or salt-rich derivatives, milk does not play any harmful role and on the contrary it could contain molecules useful for prevention.
Butyric acid, typical of milk, is considered an energy molecule for the cells of the intestine.
Furthermore, calcium (which is abundant in milk) binds certain inflammatory factors of bile acids (which would then be released into the intestinal lumen).
Bacteria from fresh fermented milks, such as yogurt, may have a probiotic function and safeguard the colon.
On the other hand, the data concerning the correlation between milk and prostate cancer are less encouraging. It seems that the link is actually present, not due to the presence of calcium (as was hypothesized), but to the intervention of hypothetical yet unknown bioactive compounds.
Regarding breast cancer, the data suggest caution. While milk does not seem in any way linked to the onset of this disease, fat derivatives can increase the chances of relapse in women who have already been operated on for breast cancer.
In summary, the intake of milk and derivatives in the diet is recommended in the following doses:

  • Milk and yogurt 2-3 servings a day of 125 ml / g.
  • Cheeses 3 weekly portions: 50 g for mature and fatty ones, and up to 100 g for fresh and lean ones.

Calcium and tumors

The speech changes with regard to football.
Given its primary importance in skeletal development and for health in general, it is imperative to stick to the recommended levels.
The general belief that "the more football you take the better" is therefore denied.
The maximum intake, which for humans concerns the prevention of osteoporosis in women in old age, corresponds to 1500 mg / day. It is strongly recommended to avoid excesses considering that, in addition to milk and derivatives, this mineral is also contained in vegetables such as: cabbage, chicory, soy and derivatives, oil seeds and some fishery products (for example small fish to eat whole) .

Anti Tumor Diet

Is there an effective diet to prevent cancer?

Just as there is no single food involved in the genesis of cancer, in the same way there is no "magic" food capable of protecting the body from these diseases.
The protective role of certain nutrients, typical of some food categories, is however now certain, as it is supported by a large amount of studies.

Vegetable nutrients against tumors

A diet rich in plant foods appears to reduce the risk of many cancers that affect the digestive and reproductive systems.
The function on the digestive system is linked above all to the antioxidant capacity and that on the reproductive system also benefits from an action called "anti-hormonal" (they partially inactivate endogenous estrogens).
The directly involved molecules are:

  • Polyphenols
    • phytosterols
    • Phytoestrogens
    • Phenolic acids
    • Flavonoids
    • Catechins
  • Sulphides and above all
    • Organosulfuric compounds
      • Character
      • Isotiociati
  • Organophosphorus compounds
  • Chlorophyll
  • Monoterpenes and saponins
  • Others.

Note: Most of the antioxidant nutritional principles also have a protective effect on cardiovascular diseases. They are in fact able to improve cholesterol, decrease platelet aggregation, reduce blood pressure and it is assumed that they have a positive effect on blood sugar. They also stimulate immune function.


That of polyphenols is a wide range of molecules with strong antioxidant and potentially anticancer power. The main classes are:

  • Flavonoids or catechins: they are very common; celery, cabbage, broccoli, soy, tomatoes, all fresh fruit, red wine and tea contain good quantities
  • Phenolic acids: the most indicative example is coffee, not necessarily intended as the powder of roasted seeds, usually used in your country to produce the drink of the same name, but more generally as the seeds of the plant (see also raw green coffee) .
  • Phytoestrogens: isoflavones from soy and lignans from oil seeds, as well as from whole grains and legumes; they are natural substances that seem to have a protective action against breast and prostate cancer.

Organophosphorus compounds

Organophosphorus compounds present in Cruciferae (such as cabbage, broccoli, turnip greens and Brussels sprouts) have shown a protective effect against certain types of cancer, studied in vitro and in animal models.

Sulphides and organosulfuric compounds

The organosulfuric compounds (subgroup of sulphides) present in Liliaceae (such as garlic, onion, shallot and leek) have shown an effect similar to the previous group; character e isothiocyanates they have a strong anti-hormonal function


Chlorophyll contained mainly in green leafy vegetables; it has a noticeably antioxidant and therefore probably anticancer action.

Monoterpenes and Saponins

Monoterpenes are aromatic substances, present in citrus fruits and certain spices, which interfere with cell proliferation; in the tumor, this differentiation is usually accelerated and uncontrolled.
Some saponins, those that are abundant in legumes and cereals, promote the elimination of certain carcinogenic substances from the intestine


Vitamin and mineral antioxidants, namely: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and selenium reduce oxidative stress, which is one of the main risk factors in the development of cancer


Soy, garlic, onion, shallot, tomato and derivatives, as well as foods or supplements that contain zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin C and calcium, appear to help prevent prostate cancer (see also: lycopene).

Mediterranean Diet Against Prostate, Pancreas and Endometrium Cancer

25% of cases of colorectal cancer, 15% of breast cancer and 10% of prostate, pancreatic and endometrial cancer could be avoided by adhering to the indications of the Mediterranean diet [Trichopoulou et al, 2000].

Some advices

  • Avoid calorie excess and carry out regular physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight and not get too heavy (no more than 5 kilos)
  • Reduce the percentage of fats, limiting in particular the consumption of saturated, hydrogenated and especially trans fats
  • Integrate the daily diet with foods rich in antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, polyphenols, etc.) and fiber
  • It is therefore advisable to include in the diet at least 4 portions a day of vegetables or fruit (equal to 600-800 grams), taking advantage of the varieties that the seasons offer
  • Limit your intake of alcoholic and sugary drinks
  • Limit your salt intake; better to stay below 8 g / day preferring aromatic herbs
  • Significantly reduce the consumption of preserved foods, especially salted (cured meats, sausages, etc.) and smoked foods
  • Avoid fried foods, prepared at high temperatures (see: best oils for frying) or on high heat (grilling)
  • It is preferable to consume fish as an evening dish at least three times a week, cheese once or twice, eggs once and fresh meat only once or twice (once white and once red)
  • It is advisable to consume legumes at least two or three times a week, as a side dish or as a substitute for the first or second course, perhaps associated with cereals (pasta and beans, rice and peas, etc.).


Recommendations for grilling

  • As we extensively described in the first part, grilling dubiously healthy meat can be responsible for the increase in harmful, toxic and generally carcinogenic compounds. Therefore, it is necessary to follow some recommendations:
    • Choose meat of good quality and of guaranteed origin; in this way it is possible to at least partially avoid the dangers that the toxic cooking residues are also associated with hormone residues or other carcinogenic substances used in livestock farming
    • Avoid the fattest cuts of meat, since it is above all the fat that undergoes harmful alterations with heat
    • For the same reason, limit the excessive greasing of dishes during cooking
    • Avoid consuming foods that are clearly charred or at least scrape off over-roasted parts. If the meat tends to stick, use "an extra drop of oil" (without exaggerating) but it is absolutely necessary to avoid leaving dangerous toxic traces on the food
    • Drink plenty of water to facilitate the elimination of toxins; avoid association with alcohol
    • If possible, with grilled meat it is better to combine a fresh and raw side dish, not grilled cooked (for example grilled chop and salad). Preferring a cooked side dish (as well as toasted bread) further increases the amount of toxic compounds
    • In general, in the diet, associate meat with foods rich in fiber and antioxidants, such as vegetables and fruit which, to fully exploit their antioxidant power, should preferably be consumed raw (with the exception of tomatoes)
    • Avoid over-salting the dishes.

Sausages, nitrites and nitrates

If the following appears on the label:

  • Nitrites (E249 E250): it is good to avoid or at least limit their consumption
  • Nitrates (E251 E252): should be consumed in moderation, as they are less dangerous than the previous ones but not entirely safe
  • Nitrates (E251 E252) in association with ascorbic acid (vit C) and / or citric acid: quite safe, thanks to the beneficial properties exerted by vitamin C (antibacterial action, inhibitory action on the transformation of nitrates into nitrites).

Avoid reheating foods containing nitrates, as the heat facilitates their transformation into nitrites.

Probiotics are prebiotics

  • The data available so far concern the reduction of colon cancer
  • A possible explanation is given by the ability of lactobacilli to suppress the growth of bacterial species, which convert pro-carcinogens into carcinogens, thus reducing the concentration of carcinogens in the intestine.
  • Furthermore, lactobacilli can sequester potentially mutagenic compounds in the intestine, thus preventing them from being absorbed.
  • In addition to fructose, the main products that are formed by the fermentation process, by the intestinal microflora, of FOS (a particular type of prebiotics), are short-chain fatty acids such as acetic, propionic and butyric acids (which seem to have a preventive action in the etiology of colon cancer).
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