According to the researchers, “We estimated summary population attributable risk estimates for 24 risk factors (smoking [both passive and active], overweight and obesity, inadequate physical activity, diet [inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, inadequate fiber intake, excess red and processed meat consumption, salt consumption, inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake], alcohol, hormones [oral contraceptives and hormone therapy], infections [Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis B and C viruses, human papillomavirus, Helicobacter pylori], air pollution, natural and artificial ultraviolet radiation, radon and water disinfection by-products) by combining population attributable risk estimates for each of the 24 factors that had been previously estimated.”
The researchers found out that 40.8 percent of cancer cases can be attributed to the above-mentioned 24 factors. “Tobacco smoking was responsible for the greatest cancer burden, accounting for an estimated 15.7 percent of all incident cancer cases (2,485 cases), followed by physical inactivity and excess body weight, which were responsible for an estimated 7.2 percent and 4.3 percent of incident cancer cases, respectively.”
The other factors were responsible for less than four percent of incident cancer cases each. The researchers concluded that combined with exercise and the conscious effort to avoid the environmental factors of incurring cancer, the disease is preventable. (Related: Researchers find 'interactions' between cancer cells and their environment.)
Also embedded in the study is the added knowledge that a big part of what is considered as a bad diet is the inclusion of too many sugars, which is common in today's society. Nowadays, 80 percent of all packaged products contain some form of fructose.
Too much fat intake is also not good for the body. As a matter of fact, a July 2017 study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that saturated fat intake is related to a risk of lung cancer in smokers and those who have quit smoking for the past 10 years. Charred and barbecued meats, on the other hand, can increase the risks of pancreatic and breast cancers.
But what takes the cake are processed foods. According to Hong Kong dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon, “processed foods” can be said to represent any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, for convenience's sake.
Common processed foods include breakfast cereals, canned and frozen vegetables, bread, pasta, savory snacks such as crisps and biscuits, microwave or read-to-eat meals, bread, oils, processed meats such as luncheon meat and jerky, and drinks such as coffee, juice, and milk.
However, not all processed foods are unhealthy, Poon said. For instance, milk needs to be pasteurized, therefore altered from its natural state, in order to remove harmful bacteria from its constitution.
For his part, Health Designer founder and senior dietitian Vin Ip said some processed foods are not detrimental to your health, noting, “Minimally processed foods are almost identical to unprocessed foods and are therefore acceptable to include in our diet.”
What must be avoided at all costs are heavily-processed foods, for instance, deli meats like bacon, salami, and sausages, for they are high in salt, nitrites, and nitrates and are likely to cause cancer. “Eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increases one's risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. That's the equivalent of about four strips of bacon or one hot dog,” Poon said.
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