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‘Nearly as bad as smoking’: The popular food that quadruples the risk of dying from cancer

Dr Nighat discusses symptoms of prostate cancer

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Cancer deaths remain stubbornly high every year, despite advances in treatments and diagnostic procedures. Partly what makes cancer so intractable is the viciousness of cancerous cells, which multiply and spread throughout the body. Although anyone can get cancer, research has drawn a link between eating certain foods and an increased risk.

One of the most concerning findings was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The study found that people who eat a high-protein diet during middle age are more likely to die of cancer than those who eat less protein.

“We studied simple organisms, mice, and humans and provide convincing evidence that a high protein diet – particularly if the proteins are derived from animals – is nearly as bad as smoking for your health,” said study researcher Valter Longo, professor of biology at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the USC Longevity Institute.

However, for people older than 65, a moderate protein intake may actually be beneficial, and protect against frailty, the researchers noted.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion after looking at more than 6,000 people ages 50 and older, and followed them for 18 years.

They found that people ages 50 to 65 who ate a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age were more than four times as likely to die of cancer during the study period than those who ate a low-protein diet.

“Popular diets in many cases have high proteins and low sugars. They may make you lose some weight, but that’s not a good diet to increase life span,” said Professor Longo.

He continued: “Of course we cannot be sure of the reasons, but we have a pretty good idea, based on this study and also previous studies, as to why this is happening.”

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The study also found that middle-age people who ate foods rich in animal proteins — including meat, milk and cheese — were 75 percent more likely to die of any cause than those who ate a low-protein diet within the study period.

The researchers defined a “high-protein” diet as deriving at least 20 percent of daily calories from protein, a “moderate” protein diet as deriving 10 to 19 percent of calories from protein, and a “low-protein” diet as less than 10 percent of calories from protein.

However, what’s bad for people at one age may be healthy at another.

In the study, people older than 65 were less likely to die of cancer or other causes if they consumed more protein.

“So, not all people benefit from low protein. Older people actually seem to benefit from moderate intake of protein,” Prof Longo said.

Having enough protein in the diet may be important for older people to maintain a healthy weight and protect against frailty, the researchers added.

It is worth noting that there was no link between high-protein intake and risk of cancer when the researchers considered participants whose protein mainly came from plants, such as beans.

Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins.

However, “choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat”, advises the NHS.

“Try to eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.”

Cancer – symptoms to spot

According to the NHS, you should speak to a GP if you’ve noticed these changes and it’s lasted for three weeks or more:

  • Tummy discomfort
  • Blood in your poo
  • Diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • A feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • Pain in your stomach or back passage (anus).

“Although it’s unlikely to be cancer, it’s important to speak to a GP so they can investigate.”

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