You may or may not have noticed but it seems to be a trend these days for science reporters at newspapers and on the television to have absolutely no knowledge of science whatsoever, only a remit to provide sensationalist stories designed to boost readership/viewership, regardless of the cost to the public. Hence we are constantly bombarded with the ‘news’ that Facebook gives you cancer, GM food will destroy the world and – most heinously – that the MMR vaccine causes autism, a barefaced lie which is now responsible for resurgent epidemics of measles and actual child deaths.
It’s a breath of fresh air therefore to read this BBC report based on a World Cancer Research Fund report which reveals that 40% of breast and bowel cancers are preventable through something so simple as healthy diet and exercise. Note that this does NOT mean just eating organic food or doing anything ill-advised like banning carbs from your table and also does NOT involve megadoses of vitamins which are more likely to be harmful than beneficial. Just a normal balanced diet and a decent amount of physical activity. It’s really that simple.
The report actually notes that 1/3 of the 12 most comon cancers in high-income countries could be prevented through such measures and a further 1/3 by stopping smoking. Altogether the report points towards more than a 50% drop in cancer rates inthe UK just through three changes in lifestyle, three sensible, non-faddish, non-‘alternative’, evidence-based approaches to healthy living.
What exactly does the advice entail though? Well the exercise one is easy enough – most people in this country at least seem to be lazy as hell. The supermarket is ten minutes walk away, why are you driving there!?! And is it too much to ask for you to take up some kind of sport, even just a couple of times a week? You don’t really need to do much, just half an hour of moderate exercise a day is a great start – maybe walk or cycle to work if you’re close enough, or even just go for a brisk stroll on your lunch hour.
As for the food, well there are plenty of resources online to help you with that but Michael Pollan’s exceedingly simple advice advice is great for starters; he managed to distill all you really need to know into seven simple words. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Once you get thinking about what each part of that mantra really means you’re on track to a healthy diet. Go on, try it. Here are some hints to get you going:
- Eat food – Real food, not premade, processed garbage or fast food. Fresh fruit and veg, real meat and fish, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. Learn to cook, it’s fun!
- Not too much – Mind your portion sizes, you don’t need as much as you think. Try eating less but more often and more healthily, you’ll feel more full for longer and be less likely to overeat.
- Mostly plants – Get most of your nutrition from fresh fruit and veg. There is nothing wrong with meat, fish and dairy at all (especially fish!) as long as they’re taken in moderation.
Now mind you, if everyone suddenly decided to adopt these lifestyle changes we’d end up with a generally healthier population which would go on to live a lot longer and we all know what old age means – cancer! So we may just be delaying the inevitable but at least it’s a start.