Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in the UK, accounting for half of all cancer deaths. But did you know that being overweight or obese is the next most common cause?
And that carrying excess fat, particularly around the tummy, is directly linked to 13 different cancers, including post-menopausal breast cancer, colorectal and endometrial cancer.
Not only are the risks of getting it higher if you are carrying too much weight, but the outcomes tend to be worse, too.
That’s because fat cells don’t just sit in the spare tyre around your middle doing nothing — they are highly active. Among other things, they make lots of extra hormones and growth factors, which travel through your blood and trigger cells in other parts of the body to divide rapidly, raising your cancer risk.
Fat around the belly also leads to increased inflammation throughout the body — a key driver not only of cancer but heart disease, depression and dementia.
The good news is that even quite modest weight loss may make a big difference.
In a recent study, researchers from the American Cancer Society tracked 180,885 women, who were 50 or older, for ten years. They found that overweight women who lost between 4.4 lb to 10 lb (2 kg to 4.5 kg) reduced their risk of breast cancer by 13 per cent, compared with those who stayed the same weight or who put on weight. And the more they lost, the better they did.
Women who managed to lose 20 lb (9 kg) or more reduced their risk by 23 per cent, even if they put some, but not all, of that weight back on.
One reason why the link between breast cancer and weight loss seems to be particularly strong is because weight loss quickly reduces levels of oestrogen, and we know that high levels of oestrogen help drive cancers of the breast and womb.
I firmly believe that one of best ways to get weight off — and to keep it off — is to start with a rapid weight-loss diet, as used in my Fast 800 programme.
You may baulk at the idea of cutting down to 800 calories a day for a few weeks — it sounds really hard, but, trust me, it isn’t. The first few days are tough but, after that, it gets easier.
And it’s especially easy with the simple food choices and delicious recipes you’ll find in the Fast 800 Easy.
The recipes have been created by my wife, Clare, who is a GP — with years of experience helping her patients to tackle health problems through low-carb, low-calorie diets — and food writer Justine Pattison. The recipes are not only easy to make, but many are based on inexpensive store-cupboard essentials.
If you follow our Fast 800 programme, we suggest you start with rapid weight-loss phase (800 calories a day, for at least the first few weeks).
Once you have lost most of your excess inches — and in a study Clare did with Oxford University, the average weight loss was 20 lb (9.5 kg) in eight weeks — we suggest you switch to ‘intermittent fasting’, where you stick to 800 calories, but only for two days a week, before finally moving to a healthy Mediterranean-style diet.
INTERMITTENT FASTING AND CANCER
WHY LESS IS IN FACT MORE
Kickstart your weight loss — and improve your metabolic health — by sticking to 800 calories a day for at least two weeks.
The recipes devised by my wife Dr Clare Bailey and food writer Justine Pattison are delicious, so you won’t feel deprived even though you are eating less.
When you approach your target weight — or if you struggle with the rapid approach — swap to an intermittent fasting pattern eating 800 calories on just a couple of days a week (the 5:2 approach).
Your weight loss will be slower but this is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Once you’ve hit your goal, continue with a healthy Mediterranean diet.
You can carry on using these recipes but add extra protein and a few tablespoons of high-fibre, unrefined carbs such as beans, lentils or wholegrains.
For more information and recipe ideas, go to thefast800.com
There have been a number of studies showing that intermittent fasting (like the 5:2 diet) can help people lose weight, and there is tentative evidence it may also help reduce the risk of cancer. One of the ways it’s believed to do that is by improving your insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that brings down your blood sugar levels. Every time you eat high-carbohydrate foods, particularly if they are sugary and easily digested (such as cakes and biscuits), your blood sugar levels soar and the body has to pump out insulin to bring them down.
But, after a while, it becomes a bit like shouting at the kids — the rest of your body stops listening and becomes ever more resistant to the effects of insulin. So the pancreas has to pump out more to produce an effect.
The problem is that as well as regulating your blood sugar levels, insulin also promotes rapid cell growth. And that, in turn, increases the chance of a mutation, where one of those cells turns cancerous.
So you really don’t want lots of insulin running round your body. And that’s where intermittent fasting comes in, because there is good evidence that it improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin to a greater degree than standard weight loss.
In addition to its effect on insulin levels, intermittent fasting may also reduce other factors that promote cancer.
For example, in 2016, researchers at the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Centre in Manchester, asked 23 women who were all overweight and who had an increased risk of breast cancer to cut their calories by 75 per cent on two consecutive days and follow a healthy Mediterranean diet for the remaining five days of the week.
After a month, not only had they lost 5 per cent of their body fat, but around half of the women showed biochemical changes in their breast tissue thought to be linked to reduced breast cancer risk.
This was a short-term study, involving a small number of women, but it is consistent with a lot of animal research.
There are now trials going on which are more rigorously testing whether intermittent fasting really can help to prevent cancer.
HEAD TO THE MED TO WARD OFF CANCER
Clare and I are huge fans of the Mediterranean diet, one which is rich in fish, vegetables, nuts and olive oil. It is super healthy and tastes great, which is why it is the basis of almost all Clare’s recipes. It is also a well-tested, cancer-preventing diet.
That’s partly because the diet is rich in omega 3, a fat found in nuts and oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and which has been shown to help slow down cancer development
The Mediterranean diet is also packed full of fruit and vegetables that are well- known for their cancer-fighting properties. As well as fibre and antioxidants, there is a compound found in kale and broccoli, called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which seems to be particularly effective at halting the growth of tumours,
I really like broccoli, so I was also delighted to see a study presented last year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology involving 155,000 people which found that regularly eating this humble green vegetable reduced the risk of developing cancer by about 5 per cent.
But for every study like this involving broccoli, there are many others involving different fruit and veg, so don’t focus on any one in isolation: it’s the mix that is key and the recipes in the Fast 800 Easy provide just that — and will tempt your tastebuds at the same time!
- For more information on how the Fast 800 works, go to thefast800.com.
SMOKE SALMON ‘SANDWICHES’
What you eat is also vital when you face medical treatment. It can be difficult to eat when going through chemotherapy, so nutritious light bites are best.
Serves 2 Prep 5 mins
PER SERVING 72 cals PROTEIN 4g CARBS 2.5g FAT 5g FIBRE 0.5g
- 30g full-fat soft cheese
- 1tsp horseradish sauce
- 5cm cucumber, cut into 12x3mm slices
- 25g smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
- Ground black pepper
Mix the cheese and horseradish in a bowl. Arrange half the cucumber slices on a plate. Spread with the cheese mixture. Divide the salmon between the cucumber slices. Season with ground black pepper, then top with the remaining cucumber.
Slices of apple are a fantastic base for cheese and nuts. These ‘blinis’ are so simple to make yet are completely scrumptious.
Serves 2 Prep 5mins
PER SERVING 110 cals PROTEIN 2g CARBS 6g FAT 8g FIBRE 1.5g
- 1 medium apple (about 130g)
- 2 tbsp full-fat soft cheese or goat’s cheese (about 25g)
- 10g jalapeno or piquant peppadew peppers from a jar, drained and rougly chopped
- 6 walnut halves (about 15g) roughly broken
- Ground black pepper
Cut the apple into thin, round slices, removing the core. Put on a plate and spread with cheese. Top with the peppers, walnuts and a grinding of black pepper.
APPLE WITH PEANUT BUTTER
An irresistible combination of tart, juicy apple and rich, crunchy peanut butter makes a surprisingly healthy mouthful.
Serves 1 Prep 5mins
CALORIES 141 cals FIBRE 2g PROTEIN 3.5g CARBS 8g FAT 9.5g
- 1 small apple (about 90g)
- 1 tbsp crunchy unsweetened peanut butter (about 15g)
- Ground cinnamon to serve (optional)
Cut the apple into quarters, remove the core and cut each quarter into 4 slices in a small bowl, mix the peanut butter with 1-2 teaspoons of water to thin for dipping. Serve the apple wedges sprinkled with the cinnamon, if using, and the peanut butter dip alongside.
These blinis are so versatile – try them with a difference cheese or seeds, instead of nuts.
Serves 2 Prep 5mins
CALORIES 137cals PROTEIN 3.5g CARBS 8g FAT 9.5g FIBRE 2.5g
- 1 medium pear (about 130g)
- 2 tbsp soft blue cheese (about 25g)
- 6 pecan nut halves (about 15g), roughly broken
Top and tail the pear then cut it into thin, round slices, 3.4mm each, removing any pips (you can also remove the core, if you prefer). Spread the pear slices with the cheese and arrange on a plate. Top with the pecans before serving.
CHINESE-STYLE EGG-FRIED CAULI-RICE
Cauliflower is rich in sulforaphane, a plant compound reported to fight cancer in several ways, including protecting cells from DNA damage and inactivating carcinogens.
Serves 1 Prep 10mins Cook 3mins
PER SERVING 362 cals PROTEIN 28g CARBS 22g FAT 16.3g FIBRE 9g
- 2 medium eggs
- 3 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp rapeseed oil
- 100g frozen edamame or peas
- 200g cauliflower florets, coarsely grated
Beat the eggs and 1 teaspoon of the soy sauce in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok over a medium heat. Pour the egg into the pan and swirl around the base. Count slowly to 10, until it is just beginning the set, then stir into flaky chunks. Add the frozen edamame or peas and cauliflower then stir-fry together for 2-3 minutes until hot. Season with the remaining soy sauce, tip into a warmed bowl and serve.
CARROT, ORANGE AND CUMIN SALAD
This salad is a perfect side dish, bursting with vitamin C which acts as an antioxidant, helping to reduce the risk of DNA damage.
Serves 2 Prep 10 mins
PER SERVING 145 cals PROTEIN 2.5g CARBS 15g FAT 7g FIBRE 5g
- 1 medium orange
- 2 medium carrots, well washed, trimmed and finely grated
- Half small red onion, peeled and very finely sliced
- 2 generous pinches cumin seeds
- 1-2 pinches crushed fried chilli flakes
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
Remove the peel and pith from the orange and discard, then cut the orange into thin slices and place in a large bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients except the mint leaves, and season with a little salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper then toss together well. Sprinkle with the mint before serving.
CREAMY CASHEW CURRY
Orange and red vegetables are rich in beta carotene, which plays a vital role in supporting the immune system and may prevent certain types of cancer.
Serves 4 Prep 15 mins Cook 40 mins
PER SERVING 455 Cals PROTEIN 9g CARBS 25.5g FAT 33g FIBRE 9g
- 1 tbsp olive, coconut or rapeseed oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 100g plain cashews
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 tbsp medium Indian curry paste
- 300g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2.5cm chunks
- 3 medium carrots, well washed, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
- 1x400ml can full-fat coconut milk
- 2 peppers, any colour, deseeded and sliced
- Half 1 tsp crushed dried chilli flakes if you like a little more heat – add in the last 5 minutes of cooking time
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Small handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped to serve (optional)
Heat the oil in a large wide-based saucepan, add the onion and nuts and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and curry paste and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the squash and carrots, pour over the coconut milk and refill the can with water. Pour this water into the pan and stir well. Cover with a lid, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are almost tender, stirring occasionally. Add the peppers, return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for a further 5 minutes – adding chilli flakes, if desired – stirring once or twice. Season with salt and ground black pepper and scatter with fresh coriander, if using, to serve.
HOW TO BUILD A HEALTHY SALAD WITH DRESSINGS
Vegetables are packed with vital polyphenols, vitamins and minerals to help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Any healthy salad starts with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and pepper, and feel free to add other non-starchy plant ingredients to your plate – extra salad leaves, such as watercress, endive, rocket or young spinach leaves, as well as chicory, radishes, onion, spring onion, celery, cress, tender kale, mushrooms, fresh herbs and/or chilli. To turn the salad into a nutritious light lunch, you’ll need to add protein. Here are some examples:
Each serves 1
- 100g cooked chicken breast (153 cals)
- 100g cooked peeled prawns (70 cals)
- 100g tuna in brine or water (113 cals)
- 60g halloumi, sliced and fried in half tsp olive oil for 1-2 mins (220 cals)
- 50g full-fat feta (124 cals)
- Half avocado (149 cals)
- 30g plain mixed nuts (179 cals)
- 100g cooked Puy lentils (143 cals)
ADD YOUR FAVOURITE DRESSING
Place 1 teaspoon Dijon of wholegrain mustard, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a screw-top jar and season with flaked sea salt and ground black pepper.
Add one or two of the following (optional):
- Makes 6 servings
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, coriander, dill
- 1 tbsp baby capers, finely chopped
- Finely grated lemon or lime zest
- Pinch crushed dried chilli flakes
- Pinch dried mixed herbs
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Fasten the lid and shake the dressing well. Season to taste. Keep in the fridge and use within 2-3 days. Serve 1 tablespoon of the dressing per person (102 cals). Don’t worry if the olive oil solidifies, just leave at room temperature for a short while or shake well.
Time-restricted eating is something I strongly recommend you try as part of my Fast 800 diet.
While this might sound intimidating if you’ve never done it, that’s exactly what you’re already doing when you’re asleep at night.
It’s simply a matter of extending the time when you are not eating.
Time-restricted eating (TRE) is different from intermittent fasting, which is the basis of the 5:2 part of the Fast 800 — where you fast (eat 800 calories) for two days and then eat normally on the other five.
TRE complements this, and is about reducing the amount of time in a day you spend eating. It is based on pioneering research by Professor Satchin Panda at the Salk Institute in California, who has shown that going 12 or even 14 hours without food gives your body valuable ‘down time’ from the work of eating and digesting.
This respite enables your body to unlock powerful repair mechanisms and there is now good evidence to show it can make it easier to lose weight — and also help your body ward off diseases such as cancer.
My wife, Clare, and I normally try to do 14:10, which means we are fasting for 14 hours and then eating within a ten-hour window.
To do that we aim to finish eating by 7pm and not eat anything else until breakfast, which we normally have around 9am.
Prof Panda told me he and his family finish their evening meal by 6pm and don’t eat again until 8am.
He suggests you try to do this at least four to five days a week. If you prefer a slightly later evening meal, he recommends stopping eating at least two hours before bed, particularly if you suffer from insomnia or heartburn.
So what is going on?
Studies show that, after time, restricted eating encourages your body to begin autophagy, a form of cellular housekeeping where dead or diseased cells are removed from the body, reducing your chances of developing some chronic diseases.
Autophagy also provides the building blocks for cell renewal and can destroy viruses and bacteria after an infection.
Time-restricted eating also has the effect of encouraging your body to ‘flip the metabolic switch’ and begin using fat from your fat stores to burn as fuel.
This is good for boosting weight loss — particularly as the first fat stores to be drained are those containing the most dangerous type of fat, the visceral fat that sits in our gut and clogs organs such as the liver and pancreas.
It’s this type of metabolically active fat that is associated with raised cholesterol and blood sugar levels — and there is evidence that a longer period of overnight fasting can reduce both these, as well as markers of chronic inflammation, which in turn is linked to heart disease and cancer. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016, women with early stage breast cancer who fasted for longer than 13 hours overnight not only lost significantly more weight than those who fasted for less but they also had a reduced risk of cancer recurrence.
The study, involving 2,413 overweight women, who had just completed their initial cancer treatment, found that those who left 13 hours or longer in between their evening meal and breakfast were 36 per cent less likely to have a recurrence of their cancer after five years.
A study by Dutch scientists at Leiden University in 2015 found that short-term calorie restriction, done for a few days before and after chemotherapy, appeared to enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy by protecting healthy cells from damage caused by the drugs.
This echoes the work of ageing expert Professor Valter Longo, of the University of Southern California, about the benefits of short-term fasting.
This is based on the way chemotherapy drugs work, by targeting cells that are rapidly dividing and growing.
If you deprive healthy cells of their normal level of nutrients for a few days by short-term calorie restriction, they will stop growing so fast, which helps protect them from the chemotherapy drugs.
But cancer cells don’t obey conventional rules, so they will continue to multiply rapidly, making them more susceptible to being destroyed by the chemotherapy drugs.
It also means that the patient is likely to experience fewer side-effects. Patients should not consider fasting on chemotherapy without speaking to their healthcare provider — but there are many other reasons to adopt time-restricted eating.
Although you may be tempted to have a late dinner followed by a late breakfast, the strongest evidence for the benefits comes from people who move their evening meal earlier.
Food eaten late at night seems to be particularly bad for us because it interferes with our body clocks and all kinds of processes, including sleep and digestion.