Prevent cancer with kitchen habits

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer
Founder and Head Coach
In The Netherlands, over 10 people are diagnosed with cancer every hour. It can affect anyone. The risk of cancer is for 40% related to lifestyle. Daily kitchen routines can help to prevent cancer. We explain the impact of lifestyle, and provide practical tips to reduce the risk of cancer. Spoiler: body fat and poop are important!

Risk of cancer

Cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, directly and indirectly. Research shows the risk of developing cancer relates for almost 40% on lifestyle. Not smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight are the most dominant lifestyle factors. What we eat, how much we eat and how much we exercise relates to the risk cancer. Percentage of body fat as well as frequency of bowel movements are of importance. [1]

Body fat

There is strong evidence that having more body fat increases the risk of the two most common types of cancer (breast and colorectal cancer), and the three hardest cancers to treat (pancreatic, esophageal, and gallbladder cancer. The reason behind this is that more fat mass is related to various metabolic, endocrine and inflammatory abnormalities that may contribute to an increased cancer risk.

More body fat = more estrogen = higher risk

More body fat is associated with elevated sex hormone levels, such as estrogens. A relatively high and prolonged exposure to estrogens may be associated with an increased risk of breast, ovarian and endometrium cancer.

 More body fat =  more insulin = higher risk

Carbs in food are broken down to glucose to be used by the body. The intake of carbs increases blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels). The pancreas secretes insulin, enabling glucose to enter the cells of our body where it is used for energy or stored for later use. As soon as we need the stored energy, the pancreas releases glucagon, that enables the cells to secrete the stored glucose. Insulin and glucagon work together to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

More body fat, especially when the fat is stored in the abdominal area, is associated with hyperinsulinemia which means the insulin level is too high. Overtime this can lead to insulin resistance, or diabetes type 2, whereby the body is resistant to insulin and glucose can’t be taken up into the cells but remains in the blood stream. Besides obesity, hyperinsulinemia is also associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and prostate cancer.

More body fat =  more chronic inflammation = higher risk

More body fat is associated with chronic inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune respons. That can be beneficial, for example when you have the flu. But when the immune response holds on for months or years, or the response is overactive for a long period, the inflammation is called chronic. Chronic inflammation is suggested to promote cancer.

Reduce the risk

What can you do today to reduce the risk of cancer?

 1. Be active during the day for less body fat and faster stool

Going to the gym a few hours per day does not compensate sitting down all day. It is important to be active throughout the day, for example by walking an standing a lot. By being physical active, insulin resistance, estrogen levels and inflammation reduce and in that way, the percentage of body fat can be reduced, and with that the risk of cancer.

Furthermore, being physically active increases the speed at which food passes the digestive system. The quicker this  transit time, the less time potential carcinogens (elements  that promote cancer) in the colon are in contact with the lining of the bowel, and the smaller the risk of cancer development. (Your poop tell it all)

 2. Eat whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, some fruit and beans

Researchers don’t know exactly why, but wholegrains, non- starchy vegetables, fruit and beans can protect against several types of cancer. These products contain dietary fiber, that may decrease the risk of colorectal  cancer (Fiber for weight loss). A possible explanation behind this is that fiber increases the weight of your poop which speeds up the transit time. Furthermore, these products contain vitamins that, especially in their combination, help to reduce the  risk of cancer. Therefore, it is best to eat a variety of vegetables and some fruit every day. 

3. Avoid fast food and a Western diet

Fast food, processed food, and a Western diet are high in fat, sugar and meat, is easily available and cheap. This food is often consumed in large portions with a risk of overeating. Eating these foods regularely can contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome and can increase the risk of cancer. (How artificial is your food?)

4. Limit the intake of red and processed meat. Do not grill or BBQ

There is evidence that red and processed meat, especially if it’s prepared on the grill or BBQ is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The reasons behind this are not fully clear, but there are several factors in meat that contribute to an increased risk. One factor is  the heme iron in meat that causes the red color and also irritates and  damages the cells in our colon. Another is nitrite that is added to processed  meat for preservation but also facilitates the negative effects of heme iron. Grilling of BBQ-ing meat makes it worse. When the fat from the meat drips on the hot surface of the pan or the coals, smoke is produces. The smoke contains carcinogenic (element that promote cancer), that sticks to the  meat. (How bad is eating meat?)

 5. Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol

There is an indirect relation between sugar and cancer. Sugar by itself does not cause cancer. But sugary drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and natural fruit drinks increase our energy intake and in that way can lead to excess body fatness. There are several reasons why alcohol can increase the risk of cancer. When the alcohol is metabolized by the ody, it is broken down into smaller elements, that are considered carcinogen. Furthermore, alcohol can lead to increased levels of estrogen, which increases the risk of cancer. Last, over- consumption of alcohol can lead to excess body fat, which  also increases the risk of cancer.

 6. Be carefull with supplements

There is no convincing evidence that dietary supplements can prevent cancer. Instead, it is possible that some supplements can increase the risk of cancer, such as toohigh doses of anti- oxidants and B-vitamins. A nutrient deficiency as well as a surplus of nutrients in the diet can increase the risk of cancer. Many people take supplements assuming, if it doesn't do harm, it will not kill them. (Do you need supplements?)


A healthy active lifestyle and some easy lifestyle adjustments can reduce the risk of cancer.

Create your own health!©


Wageningen University& Research. MOOC Nutrition and Cancer.