FOOD & CANCER PREVENTION : Cook More Often2019-02-03T14:49:53-05:00


Obesity, inflammation and cancer

The exposure of the population to inexpensive foods, overloaded with sugar, fat and salt, is partly responsible for the explosion of obesity in our society. This type of diet is often high in calories and low in health benefits (fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals…). The excessive accumulation of fat creates a climate conducive to chronic inflammation that is invisible but still disrupts the body’s overall equilibrium. Several studies indicate that high consumption of highly processed food products disrupts the balance of our microbiota (intestinal flora). When we “feed” our bacteria with less nutritious foods, they generate substances that can cause inflammation. As studies show, this pro-inflammatory environment plays a key role in significantly increasing the rate of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and also several types of cancer, including colorectal, liver, breast and kidney cancer.

Too much salt and cancer

Canadians consume an average of 3500 mg of sodium each day, which is almost 60% more than the maximum recommended intake (1500 mg per day. That’s a lot! Too much salt can lead to heart and kidney diseases, and it has also been linked to a higher risk of cancer, especially stomach cancer. Most of the salt we eat is actually hidden in transformed packaged foods such as frozen meals, soups, sauces, snacks and processed meat. What is more surprising is that products that taste sweet, like breakfast cereals and cookies, can also hide large amounts of sodium. To make better choices, it is always a good habit to read the nutrition facts table and compare different products to find the best option.

Keep in mind that seasoning a dish is not just about adding salt. Why not include more spices and herbs from different parts of the world to “jazz up” your dishes! Even though they are used in small amounts, herbs and spices often contain substantial numbers of phytochemical compounds that are beneficial for your health. One example is turmeric, a spice used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious properties. Because of its high level of polyphenols, it also shows very significant antioxidant properties, which could explain the spice’s potential influence on the prevention of certain cancers. To increase the bioavailability of turmeric, you need to add pepper, which aids in the body’s absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric.

Fat – the good and the ugly

When it comes to fat, you need to keep in mind that quality is as important as quantity. Our bodies need fatty acids to play different roles in our systems, but if you eat too much fat on a regular basis it can contribute to weight gain, high blood cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels, which can lead to serious health problems. Not all fats are equal, and some have more to offer than others. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning they are not produced by the human body and must come from the food we eat. It is naturally found in some fish (salmon, trout, sardines), nuts and seeds (flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts) and canola oil.

Studies have demonstrated that the worst fats of all are trans fats. Trans fats are produced industrially and found in shortening, many snack foods, bakery products and fried fast food. They have been linked with increased risk of heart disease, and they certainly have no protective effect against cancer. It is better to avoid them and choose healthier options.

Still, when you are selecting your groceries, don’t just take the fat content of a product into account. Consider everything else the food has to offer: vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre… Sometimes, low-fat and fat-free products contain more sugar than regular products and therefore are not the best choice.

Cooking for health and pleasure

A good way to eat less highly processed food is definitely to enjoy cooking more!

Preparing your meals instead of buying commercial products allows you to:

  • Select the ingredients and eat “real food”
  • Develop culinary skills
  • Share good times with family and inspire kids to love cooking
  • Have meals that taste amazing by getting inspired by great cuisines from around the world.
  • Canadians eat twice the limit of sodium recommended by Health Canada, and most of it comes from highly processed foods.
  • Several population-based studies indicate that those who regularly consume vegetables from the garlic family (garlic, onions, shallots, leeks) are at lower risk of developing some cancers, in particular cancers of the digestive system. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults consume 2 to 5 g of fresh garlic daily, which is approximately one clove.
  • Olive oil contains oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory molecule that plays a role in the prevention of certain chronic diseases. Moreover, hydroxytyrosol and taxifolin help inhibit the formation of new blood vessels, which could help slow the growth of certain cancers. Choose virgin or extra virgin olive oils, which contain more polyphenols, including oleocanthal, which is easy to recognize as it produces a slight tickle in the throat.
  • If the list of ingredients on the packaging is long and difficult to understand, it is not the best choice.
  • Look at the nutrition facts table to compare similar products and opt for the best one.
  • Try a little mashed avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.
  • Freshly crushed garlic, turmeric, pepper, ginger, cumin, thyme, oregano and rosemary add taste to your recipes without adding salt.
  • Double the size of your recipes for healthy leftover lunches.
  • On the weekend, prepare a large pot of soup and spaghetti sauce. It will smell delicious, and you can freeze most of it to have on hand when needed.
  • Use olive oil to cook your food instead of butter and canola oil for recipes that don’t require cooking.
  • Take 15 minutes on Saturday to plan your menu for the week to come, and prepare a grocery list.
  • Ask you friends for their top-5 healthy weekday recipes. You will get tons of new ideas for your weekly planning!
Back to Food & Cancer Prevention


World Cancer Research Fund. Recommendations and Public Health and Policy Implications. CUP Report, 2018.
World Health Organization. Obesity and Overweight. February 2018.
Richard Béliveau, Denis Gingras. Foods That Fight Cancer: Preventing Cancer Through Diet. Revised edition, 2016. Les Éditions du Trécarré, Groupe Librex inc. 278 pages.
Government of Canada. Sodium Intake of Canadians in 2017. July 2018.