Women’s waistline cancer risk

Waist size: linked to cancer
Waist size: linked to cancer

We’ve received widespread media coverage for our message that nearly half of women are at increased risk of cancer because of large waistlines.

Many people think of men having bulging bellies but statistics show 44 per cent of women in England have a big waistline – increasing their cancer risk.

Compared to this, 32 per cent of men have a raised waist circumference.

The BBC and the Guardian were among the outlets to highlight news that excess body fat increases our cancer risk, especially if the fat is stored around the waist.

There is strong evidence that a large waistline increases the risk of cancer of the bowel, pancreas, breast (in postmenopausal women) and womb lining.

WCRF has given advice on how to measure your waist correctly so you know if you have reason to be worried about your post-Christmas bulge.

It’s also a good idea to measure your body mass index (BMI) to judge whether you should take steps towards a healthy weight.

Healthy Christmas recipe ideas

Sweet Veggie Surprise: a healthy Christmas recipe
Sweet Veggie Surprise: a healthy Christmas recipe

Christmas is now just three days away and there is no doubt that part of the enjoyment of the festive season is in enjoying delicious food.

But that doesn’t mean Christmas has to be a choice between enjoying yourself and being healthy.

After all, some traditional Christmas foods such as satsumas and the vegetables that form part of Christmas dinner all count towards the five portions of fruits and vegetables we recommend you get every day.

And having a healthy Christmas doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself the occasional mince pie or slice of Christmas cake.

But by keeping an eye on what you’re eating and not overdoing the unhealthy treats, you can go into the New Year without having extra pounds to shift.

If you are looking for inspiration for healthy Christmas recipe ideas, we have come up with two recipes that might fit the bill.

One is for a main meal and the other is for a snack. But what they have in common is that they are both delicious as well as being lower in fat, calories and salt than some other foods on offer at this time of year.

Sweet Veggie Surprise

This delicious Christmas recipe contains two portions of vegetables and is a great idea for a hearty winter meal. Someone made this for a recent WCRF staff lunch and it did not last long!

This recipe will make four servings:

  • 800g/1lb 12oz sweet potatoes, peeled
  • and cut into small piece
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat spread
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 1 medium courgette, sliced
  • 1 medium leek, sliced

1) Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5.

2) Boil the sweet potatoes until tender and then drain. Mash in a large bowl with the low-fat spread. Season with the black pepper.

3) While the potatoes are boiling, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until softened and clear in colour, about 4 minutes.

4) Add the carrot, courgette and leek and sauté for about 10 minutes.

5) Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes.

6) Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, mixed beans and tomato purée and stir in the herbs.

7) Spoon the vegetable mixture into a shallow, oven-proof dish. Spread the mashed sweet potato on top. Then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

  • Preparation and cooking time: 50 minutes
  • Calories per serving: 300
  • Fat per serving: 6g
  • Salt per serving: 0.5g

You can also sprinkle some sesame seeds and low-fat grated cheese over the top and place under the grill for a few minutes.

Apple, Date and Walnut Muffins

These muffins make the perfect alternative to the traditional mince pie, which can contain more than 200 calories. This recipe will make 15 muffins:

  • 120g/5oz wholemeal flour
  • 150g/6oz plain flour
  • 50g/2oz bran flakes, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 walnuts, chopped

1) Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5.

2) In a large bowl, combine the flours, bran flakes, baking powder, baking soda,

cinnamon and walnuts. Stir in the dates.

3) In another bowl, beat the egg with the sugar and oil until well mixed, then stir in the milk and apple.

4) Pour into the flour mixture and stir just enough to moisten, being careful not

to over-mix.

5) Spoon into non-stick or paper-lined medium muffin tins, filling almost to the top.

6) Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean and the tops are golden in colour.

  • Preparation and cooking time: 40 minutes
  • Calories per muffin: 150
  • Fat per muffin: 4.8g
  • Salt per muffin: 0.4g

Red meat and cancer

Red meat: a healthy food?
Red meat: a healthy food?

There is a story in the news today about how people think red meat contains more fat that is actually the case.

This comes from MeatMatters, which is funded by the meat industry.

So it is not surprising that they have used the survey to suggest that red meat is actually healthier than people think.

But regardless of the fat content, there is convincing evidence that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer.

This is why we recommend that people aim to limit consumption of red meat to 500g a week (cooked weight) and to avoid eating processed meat.

We gave the Press Association a quote along these lines when they were writing the story.

And our quote led to the following response from Chris Lamb at MeatMatters:

“If you eat too much of anything, you are potentially doing harm to yourself. It is misleading to solely link eating a lot of meat to cancer.

“Even if people argued we were glossing over the dangers of eating meat, similarly they are glossing over the benefits of eating meat, of which there are an awful lot.”

We would agree with Chris that eating a lot of red and processed meat is not the only dietary factor linked to cancer risk.

This is why our recommendation on meat is part of a wider set of recommendations that include maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating plenty of plant foods and not having too much alcohol or salt.

Taken as a whole, we estimate that about a third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented through having a healthy diet, being regularly physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

But while meat is only a part of that, it is not insignificant. For example, scientists estimate about 3,800 bowel cancer cases could be prevented in the UK every year if we all ate less than 70g of processed meat a week. This is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon.

In terms of the meat industry “glossing over the dangers of eating meat”, this is not the wording I would use.

But I do think that when the meat industry has an online guide for health professionals called “meat and health” and does not mention the link with cancer, it is not putting across an entirely balanced picture.

But I suppose this is not surprising. To state the obvious, the meat industry’s income depends on people buying meat. So it can hardly be expected to put across a balanced picture on meat and health.

This is where organisations like World Cancer Research Fund come in. The fact that we are funded almost entirely by the generous donations of members of the public means that we can give advice that is balanced.

And I disagree with Chris that we gloss over the nutritional benefits of red meat.

Actually, we agree red meat does have nutritional benefits and, for example, we mention this in our Recommendations booklet.

The nutritional benefits of red meat are the reason we do not recommend people give it up altogether but instead that they limit their consumption.

And just to put this into context, our red meat recommendation is not especially difficult to achieve. A medium portion of roast beef or lamb might have a cooked weight of 90g, which means you could have it five times a week and still meet our recommendation.

But this is not the case with processed meats, which include bacon, ham and some sausages. The evidence shows eating them has a greater increase on your bowel cancer risk than fresh red meat without having any extra nutritional benefits.

This is why we recommend that people avoid eating them.

But, like all our recommendations, it is not a question of all or nothing. Making even a small step in the right direction is still worth doing.

So if you eat a bacon sandwich every day and do not want to give them up completely, cutting down to a couple of times a week is still something positive you can do for your health.

Quarter of adults in UK are obese

Obesity: a cancer risk factor
Obesity: a cancer risk factor

A new report that includes obesity statistics for the European Union makes depressing reading.

It has found that 25% of adults in the UK are obese, which is the highest proportion in Europe.

The European Union average is 15%, with other poorly performing countries including Ireland, Malta, Iceland and Luxembourg.

There are, of course, lots of reasons why high obesity levels are bad news. But from our perspective, higher levels of obesity mean higher rates of cancer.

This is because, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention. In fact, there are six types of cancer where there is convincing evidence that excess body fat increases risk, including breast and bowel cancer, two of the most common cancers in the UK.

And scientists estimate about 19,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year that could have been prevented through maintaining a healthy weight.

Not enough people know about the link between obesity and cancer risk. But while raising awareness about the importance of a healthy weight for cancer prevention will make a difference, it is only ever going to be part of the solution.

Our Policy Report set out the changes in society that need to happen to make it easier for people to make the sort of changes that can help prevent cancer, such as more walking and cycling facilities.

And helping to tackle obesity is a big part of this.

Fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention

Fruits and vegetables: important for cancer prevention
Fruits and vegetables: important for cancer prevention

I can imagine people who have read today’s media coverage about fruits and vegetables and cancer risk might be feeling confused.

It is all too easy when organisations like World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) say it is important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for cancer prevention and then newspapers like the Guardian report that “Fruit and vegetables do not reduce overall cancer risk”.

We have responded to today’s coverage with a statement saying fruits and vegetables are still important for cancer prevention.

But why does the picture on fruits and vegetables and cancer seem so confusing?

Let’s start with some facts most scientists in this area do agree on:

  • Fruits and vegetables probably do reduce risk of cancer, although the evidence is not strong enough for us to be certain
  • Any direct protective effect seems to be limited to certain types of cancer such as cancers of the stomach, oesophagus, and mouth, pharynx and larynx
  • Because fruits and vegetables are only linked to risk of certain types of cancer, the percentage of overall cancer cases that could be prevented is quite small
  • But because there are so many cases of cancer diagnosed every year, this still means thousands of cases could be prevented each year if everyone ate more fruits and vegetables
  • Even aside from any direct effect of fruits and vegetables on cancer risk, they still play an important role in keeping us healthy, particularly as people who eat plenty of them are still less likely to be overweight
  • This is important because there is convincing evidence that excess body fat increases risk of six types of cancer, including bowel cancer and breast cancer.

None of these facts is controversial.

Essentially, these are the findings of WCRF’s 2007 landmark cancer prevention report. They also reflect the findings of a big study on fruits and vegetables and cancer that was published earlier this year, which suggested about 7,000 cases of cancer a year could be prevented in the UK if we all ate an extra two portions a day.

What’s more, these facts are consistent with the findings of this latest review.

So why have studies with similar findings led to such dramatically different headlines?

Well, it’s all a question of emphasis. Essentially, it boils down to whether your glass is half full or half empty.

Some people choose to focus on the fact that we are not certain that fruits and vegetables reduce cancer risk and that the overall proportion of cancer cases they could probably prevent is small.

And this is true.

But at World Cancer Research Fund, we think it is worth encouraging people to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables because the evidence shows they probably reduce cancer risk.

And while the proportion of cancers that could be prevented may be small, this still adds up to thousands of cases in the UK every year. There is also the added benefit that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is a good way of maintaining a healthy weight.

Also, there are other health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, including reducing risk of heart disease.

We are confident in our Recommendation to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables as part of a plant-based diet because this is the judgement of an independent panel of 21 world-renowned scientists who made recommendations after looking at all the scientific evidence.

This means the people who follow our 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention can be confident they are following the best advice available.

So despite the news stories that say the opposite, people who are concerned about cancer should still eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a wider healthy lifestyle.

The media coverage of this review has been unhelpful. It gives the impression it has found something dramatically new, which it hasn’t.

And it is also likely to reinforce the impression that scientists are always changing their minds or cannot agree about cancer risk. Actually, the advice on how to reduce your risk has not changed that much over the last 10 years and in many areas the evidence behind our Recommendations has become stronger.

We asked YouGov to carry out a survey on this and it found that 27 per cent of people said that, because scientists are always changing their minds, the best approach is to ignore health advice and just eat what you want.

This is why media coverage matters and in fact World Cancer Research Fund’s Policy Report identified the media as one of the nine groups in society that can make changes that can help prevent cancer.