This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Millions of people are diagnosed with cancer each year, the leading cause of death in the world. Therefore, both the prevention of the disease and its treatment are so important. In this context, proper nutrition, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are factors that reduce the risk of getting sick and improve the prognosis.

As we said, a healthy diet is of great importance to prevent different types of cancer. However, there are no miracle foods that cure or prevent its appearance. There are also no ingredients in the diet that directly cause it: it is the set of our eating habits that reduces or increases the chances of getting sick.

Over the next few lines, readers will notice that, in general, the phrases used when making recommendations about diet and cancer are less than conclusive; the words “seems” or “may” are constantly repeated. That’s because more research is needed to confirm these findings and clarify the diet’s true impact.

Some guidelines for creating an anti-cancer menu

First of all, it is important to maintain a healthy weight: excess body fat and associated pathologies such as insulin resistance are associated with an increased risk of cancer of the thyroid, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, colon and kidney. , breast, endometrium or prostate. In addition, they seem to promote metastasis in some tumors, such as lung cancer.

Regarding nutrients and foods that help in prevention, the diet should be rich in fiber (fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains). Often, including these foods on the menu is also associated with a lower risk of obesity.

Specifically, eating fruits and vegetables reduces the chances of developing many types of cancer, such as mouth and esophagus, while whole grains can help prevent colorectal cancer. In addition to fiber, these foods contain antioxidants that can also protect the body.

In addition, you should limit the consumption of foods rich in poor quality fats (saturated and trans fats), starches and sugars. This is the case with ultra-processed foods (energy drinks, sausages, lasagna, industrial pizzas, snacks, etc.).

Regarding the different types of diet, the Mediterranean stands out for its virtues, which seem to reduce the chances of developing breast and colon cancer. It is characterized by the use of virgin olive oil as a fundamental source of fat; a high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes; moderate consumption of fish and dairy products; and little amount of red or processed meats.

On the contrary, a Western diet with an abundance of red and processed meats, sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods would increase the chances of suffering from these diseases.

Diet does not cure, but improves the patient’s quality of life

It seems more or less evident that a balanced diet reduces the risk of cancer, but does not prevent it. Once the disease appears, it can help, along with appropriate medical treatment, to improve the patient’s prognosis and quality of life. In addition, it can help mitigate some side effects of treatments and reduce the risk of infections.

It is common for cancer patients to suffer from malnutrition due to treatments and the course of the pathology itself. Avoiding or reducing it is important as it improves the prognosis. It is very important to meet the energy needs of these people, and especially protein needs.

The latter are in charge of repairing tissues, which in cancer patients can be very damaged due to surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry and legumes are good sources of protein.

These repair processes also require an extra energy input. When the required intake cannot be achieved –for example, due to lack of appetite–, the diet should include foods with a high energy density, such as dried fruit or smoothies. You can even replace whole grains with refined grains, as the fiber makes you feel fuller.

In short, the diet must be adapted to the individual, his needs and his condition. Thus, in patients with nausea and vomiting, cold, bland foods such as pureed fruit, yogurt, or pasta or rice salads are generally well tolerated. If the patient has any difficulty swallowing, it may be useful to grind the food and add thickeners and gelling agents to improve the texture, in order to avoid the use of a tube to administer the food.

By way of conclusion, it should be remembered that, although diet does not cure cancer, it improves the prognosis and helps to prevent it, so investment in research must be a priority.