Smokers Can Lower Cancer Risk With Fruits and Vegetables

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The best way to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer is to quit smoking, but for those who cannot or will not quit, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables may offer some protection.

A Wide Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Can Lower Cancer Risk

Researchers at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands analyzed data on more than 450,000 adults from 10 European countries. Participants in the study filled out questionnaires about dietary habits and lifestyle, including occupation, medical history, tobacco use, and physical activity. The participants were followed for nine years, during which 1,613 people were diagnosed with lung cancer.

Read: Five Fruits and Vegetables and the Diseases They Fight

Self-reports of fruit and vegetable consumption were divided into specific categories, such as leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fresh or canned fruits, or dried fruits. The categories did not include legumes (beans), potatoes, nuts and seeds, or olives.

Participants who ate a diet that contained a diverse mix of fruits and vegetables – including deeply colored kale and spinach, berries and melons, cauliflower and eggplant – appeared to have a 27 percent lowered risk of squamous cell lung cancer, which accounts for 25-30 percent of all lung cancers.

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The protection improved slightly with every different type of fruit and vegetable they ate.

Read: Color Your Diet with Foods to Prevent Cancer

"It is important to realize the risk reduction one can achieve by eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables will be minor in relation to quitting smoking," stressed study leader Dr. Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita. “Fruits and vegetables contain many different bioactive compounds and it makes sense to assume that it is important that you not only eat the recommended amounts, but also consume a rich mix … by consuming a large variety.”

The North Dakota State University Extension Service offers a guide to consumers on how to “Eat the Rainbow” – incorporating a variety of deeply colored fruits and vegetables into the American diet.

Previous research has found that a plant-based diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables may be protective of many types of cancers, including colorectal, gastric, breast, oral and esophageal cancers. Filling up on low-calorie, high fiber produce can also be a strategy for losing weight, as obesity contributes to many types of cancers as well.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, from the American Association for Cancer Research.

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