I came across this fascinating article on the Cancer Research UK website, which looks into the public perception of news that links food, lifestyle and cancer, and how that perception often causes us to ignore good, strong scientific evidence.
However, the part that most caught my eye was this:
On the other hand, consider the mammoth, careful, painstaking review of expert evidence contained in the WCRF report on diet and cancer from November 2007.
This report was written collaboratively by many scientists. It was not only based on research that had been done, but a whopping 7000 individual research papers that had been carefully reviewed, weighed, collated and assessed.
Now that sounds like something fairly authoritative, and worthy of a quick scan. And so it turns out.
The report is available as a free download, and really does make very interesting reading indeed. The entire document runs to some 550 pages, and goes into great detail on likely causes of, and inhibitors of individual cancers, which is of more use to people like me who might want to improve my chances of recovery from a specific cancer, as well as making the more general societal recommendations that would help reduce the incidence of cancers more generally.
You owe it to yourself to read the summary of recommendations (on pages 373-391) if nothing else.
UPDATE: It occurs to me I could summarise those general recommendations here, rather than making everyone go off and download and read the actual report, so to that end:
Body fatness: Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight (cf Body Mass Index)
Physical activity: Be physically active as part of everyday life
Foods and drinks that promote weight gain: Limit consumption of energy-dense foods, and avoid sugary drinks
Plant foods: Eat mostly foods of plant origin
Animal foods: Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat
Alcoholic drinks: Limit alcoholic drinks (< 4 UK units per day average)
Preservation, processing, preparation: Limit consumption of salt, avoid mouldy cereals (grains) or pulses (legumes)
Dietary supplements: Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone
Breastfeeding: Mothers to breastfeed; children to be breastfed
Cancer survivors: Follow the recommendations for cancer prevention
If you are suffering from cancer then you should probably still download and read the sections of the report covering your specific cancer, as there are usually special recommendations that are specific to that cancer in addition to these more general recommendations. So, for my colorectal cancer there are recommendations on dietary fibre intake, for instance.