By Edwina Green, Corporate Nutritionist.

The 4th February has been designated World Cancer Day and it has created the ‘We Can, I Can’ campaign to highlight approaches that can be taken to reduce the number of people experiencing this disease and improve outcomes for those with cancer.

I am a naturopathic nutritionalist and one of the tenets of naturopathic medicine is to seek to prevent of disease in any form. Research is increasingly showing that many cancers are as a result of environment rather than seemingly uncontrollable factors like genetics. If this is a disease of environment then there are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risks of developing disease.

Following a healthy diet is commonly quoted as one factor which can prevent cancer, but healthy can be a very nebulous, so in terms of cancer prevention, I recommend two dietary goals

Achieving and maintaining an appropriate weight.

At the beginning of this year, the UK Health Forum and Cancer Research UK published their report Tipping the Scales: Why Preventing Obesity Makes Economic Sense. This report stated that 10 types of cancer can be caused by obesity and a further two cancers can be caused by being overweight. Put the search criteria obesity and cancer into PubMed and you will be presented with just shy of 20,000 research papers and trials published on the subject; 2,500 of which have been published since the beginning of 2015. Obesity is now considered the second most modifiable risk factor for cancer following cessation of smoking.

Aiming to achieve a BMI in the normal range (18.5-24.9) for most adults is a good benchmark.

Reducing inflammation

Inflammation presents a bit of a chicken and egg story for many chronic diseases including cancer; is it the cause? is it a driver of the disease? or simply an acceptable immune reaction? Chronic inflammation is increasingly a by-product of our modern lifestyles, and its negative role in many disease processes is becoming increasingly established, with studies drawing an association with a pro-inflammatory diet[1] and all cause mortality, not just cancer.

The good news is that an anti-inflammatory diet can help modulate inflammation, and ensure that it is activated when required, but doesn’t run unchecked for long periods of time.

If these are the goals of a healthy diet then what are some of the steps that can be taken to help realise those goals? Here are 6 steps which will set you on the right path:

1.Keep hydrated

Many of us tend to be slightly dehydrated due to coffee and tea intake, central heating at home, air conditioning in offices as well as simply not drinking enough. Water is key to enabling our bodies to remove waste and toxins, transporting nutrients and oxygen in the blood, as well as regulating body temperature and protecting organs and tissue.

Tip: The Institute of Functional Medicine recommends the following formula for working out how much water you should consume on a daily basis: Take your ideal weight in lbs (e.g. 10.0 stone = 140 lbs) translate to fluid oz (140 fluid oz), half this value (70 fluid oz ==> 2 litres) for your daily target.

2. Ditch sugar, beige and processed foods

Significantly reducing sugar from the diet is a great step in transitioning away from a pro-inflammatory diet. But you are not just looking for the white stuff; simple carbohydrates (or what I term beige food) like white bread and pasta, cakes, pastries and crisps should also be avoided. Typically, they have more calories than nutritional value and as such do not contribute to a healthy diet. Additionally, heavily processed foods also tend to be high in salt which can disrupt your electrolyte balance and create inflammation.

3. Increase omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs)

Fat has been dressed up as the bad guy for many decades, but it turns out that not all fats have been created equal. The king of fats are the Omega 3 EFAs, which are nutritionally and energy dense, as well as a potent anti-inflammatories.

Tip: Cold water, oily fish is the best source of Omega 3 EFAs; think: SMASH (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring) and aim for 2-3+ portions a week.

4. Increase your vegetables

Vegetables are hugely versatile, full of nutrients and I place no limits on my client’s consumption of vegetables, but do insist on variety. The phytonutrients in vegetables protect DNA, enhance immunity, aid digestion and detoxification.

Tip: Eat the rainbow; aim to eat 20 different vegetables per week and women, in particular, should include one portion of cruciferous (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale) vegetables daily.

5. Moderate your fruit

Fruit, like vegetables, have an anti-oxidant function, enhance immunity, aid digestion and detoxification. However, they have sugar content which should be moderated, make sure you eat the whole fruit and avoid fruit juices and dried fruit.

Tip: Limit to 1-2 portions a day. Check Glycemic Index (GI) and target low GI fruits such as dark red and purple berries, apples and pears over tropical fruits like bananas and mangos.

6. Investigate potential intolerances

Identify any intolerances and eliminate the culprits. Intolerances could be triggering your immune system unnecessarily and creating on-going underlying inflammation. Common food based intolerances are dairy (cows, sheep and goats, milk, cheese & yogurt), wheat and gluten foods (wheat, rye, barley), oats, eggs and the nightshade family (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers). However, also look into external factors like pollen, animal hair and metals like nickel.

For me the power of diet over cancer is only just being understood, but the birth and expansion of the science of nutrigenomics, shows that diet can also influence those seemingly uncontrollable factors like genes. For example research by Dr. Dean Ornish showed that after three months on an intensive lifestyle program including a whole-foods plant-based diet, modified the progression of prostate cancer, specifically, >500 genes that regulate cancer were beneficially affected, either turning off cancer-causing genes or turning on the cancer-protective genes[2]. This means that genes are not your destiny, they are one piece in the complex web of human biology.

One final word.

You know yourself best and it is important go with your gut intuition. If something is not right, then make an appointment with your GP. Nine times out of ten, they will be able to put your mind at rest. Worry and stress also contribute to inflammation, so you can cut this off at source, by making that appointment. Equally, if you are not satisfied, seek a second opinion.

If you have a family history of cancer, understand the early symptoms, get to know your body and make that GP appointment if you have the faintest suspicion. Choices, survival rates and quality of life are dramatically improved where the cancer is detected early, compared with later detection.

About Edwina Green


Edwina is a naturopathic nutritionalist and a firm believer in the transformative benefits that good nutrition can bring. Before making the career move to naturopathic nutrition, she ran her own company working in the City of London. Edwina is currently studying for an MSc in Personal Nutrition and is specifically interested in the connection between our genes and our health.  In particular, the field of nutrigenomics where the food we eat can positively influence our genes, reducing the risk of disease.

[1] Deng FE, Shivappa N, Tang Y, Mann JR, Hebert JR. (2016). Association between diet-related inflammation, all-cause, all-cancer, and cardiovascular disease mortality, with special focus on prediabetics: findings from NHANES III. European Journal of Nutrition, Published Online 29/01/2016.

[2] Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, Weidner G, Weinberg V, Kemp C, Green C, Mattie MD, Marlin R, Simko J, Shinohara K, Haqq CM, Carroll PR. (2008). Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 105 (24), 8369-74.