Can local food reduce cancer risk?

BY: Esther Oppong-Boadi, Dr Laurene Boateng & Md. Eunice Nortey
Can local food reduce cancer risk?
Can local food reduce cancer risk?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than eleven million people are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Seven million people die from cancer annually, accounting for 12.5 per cent of the world's 58 million deaths, more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria together.

GLOBOCAN (an online database providing global cancer statistics) predicts that 16,600 cancer cases occur in Ghana each year. In the year 2020, Ghana registered 24,009 new cases and 15,802 deaths.

Food is the first medicine for our bodies, and it is not only consumed to satisfy our hunger. Higher consumption of certain foods has been linked to a lower risk of cancer growth in various studies. Some of these foods are available locally and easily accessible in our market, and we eat them on a daily basis.

Examples are onion, garlic, etc. They contain a substance called sulphur, which protects against stomach, colorectal and prostate cancer.


Tomatoes contain a substance called lycopene, which gives them their red colour and has cancer-fighting features. Lycopene from tomatoes has been shown to protect against several cancers, including colorectal, prostate, breast, lung and pancreatic cancers.

A review of 17 research studies found that eating cooked tomatoes on a daily basis lowers the risk of prostate cancer. Cooking increases the release of lycopene, so using it in stews, soups and other dishes will be beneficial.

Food that is high in fibre and unprocessed has been shown to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer.

According to several studies, oat contains Oat beta-glucan (OBG), one of the major components of soluble fibre that helps protect against cancer.

OBG was found from studies to be protective against skin cancer cells, epithelial lung cancer and large intestine cancer.

Brown rice

Brown rice is high in dietary fibre and has a low glycemic index (glycemic index is a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels). This makes it a healthy carbohydrate when eaten in appropriate portions.

According to research, brown rice and its by-products have promising results in cancer prevention because it contains substances such as vitamin E, phytic acid and aminobutyric acid which aid in cancer prevention. When refined, they lose important nutrients, so it's best to eat them whole.


Carotenoids, peptides and other substances found in maize have been shown to help reduce cancer growth. Carotenoid in maize grains, particularly yellow corn, is extremely important in our diet. High concentrations of this substance can help kill cancer cells in the large intestine, cancer of the blood, skin and stomach.

Ghana has, in recent years, recorded a high number of cancer cases. About 30-40 per cent of these cancers are preventable by adhering to healthy eating, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

Therefore, foods that may help lower the risk of cancer should be consumed daily to help prevent the increase in cancer cases.

The writers are with the Department of Dietetics, University of Ghana.