When it comes to cancer, your genes matter a lot less than what you spread on your bread.

Image via iStock

Most of us know that breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects Australian women. Today 40 Australian women will be diagnosed with the disease. And tomorrow another 40 will be added to the list. That’s half again more per day than in 1982. And it’s getting much worse very quickly. In just five short years that rate will be 50 a day.

RELATED:This is what it’s like to have cancer when you’re 24

In recent years many women have had their breasts and ovaries removed to reduce their chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The majority of these women carry a defective gene, the BRCA gene, that is responsible for producing proteins which defend our cells against the kind of damage that leads to cancer.

Women who carry this gene are five times more likely to suffer from breast cancer and have a much higher risk of ovarian cancer than those who don’t carry the gene. Their choice to undertake brutal preventative action is entirely understandable.

Angelina Jolie has openly spoken about having surgery after discovering she carries the BRAC1 gene.

The good news is that less than one in 20 breast cancers are caused by having this mutation. The bad news is that we are all eating something which disables most women’s perfectly functional BRCA gene.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women. Today 40 Australian women will be diagnosed with the disease. And tomorrow another 40 will be added to the list. That’s half again more per day than in 1982. And it’s getting much worse very quickly. In just five short years that rate will be 50 a day.

RELATED:“4 things I want you to know about how life is different after cancer”

That food that is driving this acceleration is vegetable oil. It is disabling the anti-cancer defences of the 95 per cent of women who don’t have the BRCA mutation carried by Jolie. And worse it is making all of us much more susceptible to cancer anyway.

In the last two to three generations, the saturated fats that fed humans for 250,000 years has been slowly but surely swapped out for fats extracted from seeds.

These fats appear on food labels as ‘Vegetable Oil’, ‘Sunflower Oil’, ‘Canola Oil’, ‘Soybean Oil’, ‘Cottonseed Oil’ and ‘Ricebran Oil’.
Unlike the much more stable molecules in animal fat and fruit oils (like coconut, avocado and olive oil), ‘vegetable oils’ contain large amounts of very volatile fats.

RELATED:Can coconut oil REALLY be used for everything, Miranda Kerr?

These highly reactive fats become part of the membrane of every cell in our body. When they react with oxygen, the cell membrane can collapse and damage the cell’s DNA.

But the BRCA gene produces proteins which help repair that damage. Unfortunately the fats contained in vegetable oils also disable the BRCA gene.

(Post continues after gallery.) 

So not only do they cause the damage, these oils disable the system which would normally repair that damage.


In one controlled trial, 800 men were split into two groups. One group was fed a diet that included butter and animal fats. The other used margarine and vegetable oils.

After eight years, the group that replaced animal fats with vegetable oils was almost twice as likely to die from cancer. This was true even though they had many fewer smokers.

RELATED:The surprising reason why more women are smoking than men

At least seven major human studies have now confirmed that the risk of breast cancer is approximately doubled by consumption of vegetable oil. And this is supported by a large number of studies in animals, showing that vegetable oils drive cancer in general.

Before you tell me you’re ok because you always cook in olive oil and wouldn’t touch margarine with a barge pole, you should know that the fat we add is a very small part of the fat we actually consume.

These vegetable oils are much cheaper than traditional fats (like butter, olive oil and lard). And because of the (now discredited) theory that saturated fat caused heart disease and weight gain, we’ve all been told to eat only foods that use vegetable oil.

RELATED:Is this the key to lowering your skin cancer risk?

So they are now a big part of spreads and baked goods and bread and salad dressings and pestos and mayo and meal bases and frozen food and, well, every other product (with a label) in our supermarkets.

And just avoiding stuff with labels won’t necessarily save you. You may be what you eat but you are also what your food ate. Grain fed meat and fish has higher levels of the dangerous fats than grass fed meat or wild caught fish.

Even at the take-away you’re not safe. Almost all fried food sold in Australia is now boiled in the dangerous vegetable oils instead of the traditional fats.

RELATED:How to order takeaway and not put on weight

In other words, it is almost impossible to avoid unless you grow and assemble your own food.

With a food supply stuffed to the brim with cancer inducing vegetable oils, it’s little wonder that our lifetime risk of contracting cancer now sits at one in two for men and one in three for women.

But you don’t need to knit your own bacon or only drink dolphin sweat. It is possible to safely avoid ‘vegetable oils’ and eat normal food if you are careful how you shop.

My wife Lizzie, our six kids and I have been shopping and living without vegetable oils for 6 years. If we can do it, anybody can.

David Gillespie’s new book, Eat Real Food is published by Pan Macmillan and is out now.