Doctors, Dietitians Stand Behind Fat/Cancer Link

"From a global public health perspective, it is tobacco, not diet that is projected to be the driving force in increased cancer deaths," said K. Michael Cummings, chairman of the Department of Health Behavior at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. "Avoiding tobacco, the green leafy vegetable that is not good for you, will prevent about 30 percent of cancers."

But if you don't smoke, diet and exercise are the next most important factors to control.

"There's no question -- if you don't smoke, the most important lifestyle change you can make to reduce your cancer risk is to strive to maintain a healthy weight," said Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society. "Being physically active is important not only to help maintain a healthy weight, but also directly impacts the risk of breast and colon cancer."

Taking a Cut at Meat

In addition to maintaining a healthy body weight, the AICR report urges people to limit their consumption of red meat -- a statement the American Meat Institute has already called "extreme and unfounded."

According to the report, there is evidence that red meat, including beef, pork and lamb, as well as processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausage, significantly increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Researchers say for every 1.7 ounces of red meat and processed meat consumed each day, cancer risk increases by 15 percent and 21 percent respectively. Researchers recommend only eating 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week and avoiding processed meat altogether.

Instead of meat, researchers say fruits and vegetables should be the main course, a statement that Doyle agrees with.

"Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and limited amounts of red and processed meats," she said.

Besides food, alcohol consumption may increase your cancer risk as well. The AICR panel found that alcoholic drinks are linked to mouth, larynx and colorectal cancers and may also cause liver cancer. The report said men should limit alcoholic intake to two drinks a day and women to one.

Recommendations May Extend to Other Nations

Although the report is particularly relevant to those in the United States, the recommendations regarding diet and exercise can help people make healthy choices around the world.

"What is most remarkable about this effort, though, apart from the completeness of the review, is the international approach. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 10 recommendations seem to resonate with needs and opportunities in diverse parts of the world, from India to Mexico to Sweden," said Dr. Tim Byers, a professor of preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado and an expert on the AICR panel.

"The developed and developing nations alike all face similar problems with obesity, physical inactivity, limited food choices, etc. So I think this report will be seen as an important step towards developing international consensus and collaboration on efforts to reduce chronic diseases through improved nutrition."

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