Keeping a tight rein on what we eat could help ward off the risk of oesophageal cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease, according to recent research from the Agricultural Research Service arm of the US Department of Agriculture.
ARS scientists, led by Katherine Tucker, director of the Dietary Assessment Research Programme at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing at Tufts University in Boston, looked at consumption habits of 700 people who were asked to recall how frequently they ate 54 specific food items. Their responses ultimately formed the basis of six dietary patterns identified.
These patterns were designated as healthy, high meat, high salty snacks, high dessert, high milk and high white bread by the researchers, who found, not surprisingly, that the healthy dietary group had the lowest risk of oesophageal cancer. That diet was high in fruit and vegetables and whole grains, good sources of carotenoids, vitamin C, dietary fibre and B vitamins.
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid suggests two to three servings of protein each day from a varied group that includes poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, as well as meats. But those in the high-meat group pattern consumed about three servings per day of red or processed meats alone. They also had lower intakes of fruit and vegetables, and Tucker's team found that their risk of contracting oesophageal cancer was 3.6 times higher than those in the healthy diet group. They also had an almost three times higher risk for stomach cancer.
While grouping data by patterns is a subjective science, the researchers found that similar patterns emerged during other investigations involving various populations. Nonetheless, they stressed that more detailed research was needed to confirm the link between dietary patterns and cancer risk.
The ARS research was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.