I keep a mental dietary list which I review at the end of each day…”Let’s see, I had juice in the morning, salad at lunch, two vegetables at dinner and fruit for dessert. OK, now I’ve had my five or more fruits and vegetables and have done my nutritional duty to ward off cancer.” It turns out I am giving myself inadequately proven anti-cancer food advice.
The largest prospective study to date, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study (wisely acronymed the EPIC study), followed 478,478 individuals aged 25 to 70 years in 10 European countries for a median of 8.7 years. (How they got to a number that has those matching numerals is a mystery.) Unlike many large studies, women comprised the predominant gender (335,873 women vs. 142,605 men). The overall cancer incidence rates were 7.9 per 1000 person –years for men and 7.1 per thousand-person years for women. When the researchers analyzed the impact of daily veggies, they found that an increase of 100 grams (the equivalent of a serving of broccoli) reduced cancer risk by only 2% while a comparable intake of fruit (less than an apple) reduced cancer risk by just 1%. These were very low percentages…and were restricted to women; they didn’t even apply to men who gained no cancer protection.
I would like to remind you of a previous website article in which I cited articles that discourage women from drinking more than 10 grams (one drink) at any time. Well, the researchers that reviewed the EPIC data found that intake of fruit and vegetables did decrease cancer risk by 10% in heavy drinkers (more than 30 g daily for women and 60 grams for men). But considering all the damage that excessive alcohol consumption does to our health, proclaiming that the right foods will prevent certain cancers is not appropriate medical advice.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) still advises that we consume 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis to help reduce cancer risk both directly as well as indirectly by helping maintain a healthy weight. In 2005, ACS made “the 5 rule” the third priority after healthy weight maintenance throughout life and adoption of a physically active lifestyle. The ACS meets to update its recommendations later this summer and will probably change them based on the EPIC study.
But before I encourage you to stop that “5-a-day” nutritional count let’s remember that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of mortality in women (not cancer). There are many prospective studies that have shown that 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day reduce cardiovascular risk by as much as 12%. These foods contain nutrients and vitamins that are essential for all of our bodies’ functions. They most certainly help us maintain a healthy weight and a lower weight (or more precisely, lack of obesity) will diminish our risk of diabetes, heart disease and many cancers. We have to eat something, and substitutions for fruits and/or veggies usually carry excess calories, sugar, salt and bad fats. (Think processed or junk food.)
I may stop computing those servings in the hope that I will reduce my risk of cancer, but I’ll keep up the count to maintain my heart, weight and future health and well being.