How to enjoy a healthy diet

The food we eat can affect our risk of developing cancer. There’s no ‘food prescription’ for exactly what you should eat, or how much of it, to help reduce the risk of cancer. But as the evidence grows, we can make recommendations about the balance of foods to aim for.

Find out how you and your family can eat a healthy diet and by doing so reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. A healthy diet is one that is:
  • High in fibre, fruits and vegetables.
  • Low in red and processed meat, saturated fat and salt.
For straightforward tips on healthy changes to your diet that can help you manage your weight, visit How to Keep a Healthy Weight.
Fruit and vegetables and a healthy diet
Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
Try to have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day.  A portion of fruit of vegetables is an 80g serving. Examples of a portion: a medium-sized apple, a banana, 2 satsumas, 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked veg, or a cereal bowl’s worth of salad.
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of many important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate, and are an excellent source of fibre.
  • Include tinned, dried or fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, they all count towards your daily portions.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.
  • Some foods can’t count for more than 1 portion of your 5-a-day, even if you eat more than that. Lentils, beans and pulses are a good option, but don’t contain as many nutrients as other fruits and vegetables. And 150ml of fruit juice or smoothie can only count for 1 of your 5 as it is high in sugar and low in fibre.
Here are some tips to add an extra portion of fruit or veg at each meal:
  • Top breakfast cereal, ideally wholegrain, with fruit.
  • Put some crunch in your lunch with carrot and celery sticks.
  • Add extra beans, mushrooms or chopped peppers to sauces and casseroles.
If you’re trying to get your children to eat more fruit and veg, research shows that tiny tastes can help get them into a new food. Don’t force them to eat something they hate, but do give them several opportunities to try a small amount of it. Working with their preferences can help too - children tend to like crunchy and sweet foods. So try them out on crunchy raw carrots or peppers as a snack.


Calorie Intake and the US Obesity Epidemic

Between 1960 and 2008, the prevalence of obesity in US adults increased from 13 to 34 percent, and the prevalence of extreme obesity increased from 0.9 to 6 percent (NHANES surveys).  This major shift in population fatness is called the "obesity epidemic".

What caused the obesity epidemic?  As I've noted in my writing and talks, the obesity epidemic was paralleled by an increase in daily calorie intake that was sufficiently large to fully account for it.  There are two main sources of data for US calorie intake.  The first is NHANES surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.  They periodically collect data on food intake using questionnaires, and these surveys confirm that calorie intake has increased.  The problem with the NHANES food intake data is that they're self-reported and therefore subject to major reporting errors.  However, NHANES surveys provide the best quality (objectively measured) data on obesity prevalence since 1960, which we'll be using in this post.

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Uncovering the True Health Costs of Excess Weight

Is excess weight hazardous to health, or can it actually be protective?  This question has provoked intense debate in the academic community, in some cases even leading researchers to angrily denounce the work of others (1).  There is good evidence to suggest that excess body fat increases the risk of specific diseases, including many of our major killers: diabetes, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, cancer, and kidney failure (2).  Yet strangely, the studies relating excess weight to the total risk of dying-- an overall measure of health that's hard to argue with-- are inconsistent.  Why?
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