Body

How a balanced diet might help prevent skin cancer

Here's how you can eat your way to a longer, healthier life.

So many of our lives have been touched by cancer. It’s estimated that 60 New Zealanders will be diagnosed each day, according to Cancer Society.

Eating healthy food not only makes us feel great, but it also reduces our risk of getting sick. In the clip below, Australian dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan explains how a balanced diet can do wonders when it comes to cancer prevention, and explains why what we eat has a massive impact on our vulnerability to this type of disease - including, perhaps surprisingly, skin cancer.

“New evidence is suggesting that diet can influence our risk of getting skin cancer. We’ve been taught in Australia that the risk has to do with exposure to the sun but there are other factors – including the food we eat – that are at play,” Dr Joanna said.

Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world – two to three times higher than Canada, the USA and UK according to the Cancer Council. Each year skin cancer accounts for 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers. Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and when it comes to women, and is the tenth most common cause of cancer death.

Many of us understand the importance of the ‘slip, slop, slap’ message – how wearing a hat, sun cream and a long sleeve top can reduce our risk of developing skin cancer – but Dr Joanna says that certain foods can also lessen the risk.

“When sun hits the skin it can cause damage to the cells. This process can go on to become cancer but there are particular vitamins – like Vitamin D – that are important when it comes to building the defense mechanisms of the skin,” she explains.

Dr Joanna says you only have to look overseas to see the impact of diet when it comes to cancer prevention.

“The Mediterranean diet – with its rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables, with olive oil as the principle fat, along with nuts and seeds, with smaller amounts of lean meat and lots of seafood – is an immune-boosting kind of diet which allows the body to become more resistant to cancer,” she said.

Despite the cancer-prevention hype around ‘super foods’ like Brazilian acai berries and Tibetan goji berries, the Cancer Council of Australia says that in general, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will help reduce the risk of the disease developing.

This includes increasing the amount of vegetables, fruit and legumes in your diet and reducing the amount of processed meats (such as salami or ham) that you consume.

It is also recommended to replace red meat with fish or chicken.

Always consult your trusted GP before making changes to your diet.