Why food can be your best cancer-fighting friend

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Why food can be your best cancer-fighting friend

Want to make your kitchen your best ally in fighting off cancer’s reach?  Not only do our daily food choices play a substantial role on the influence and specific type of cancer that may develop but our food choices may also provide a protective role in reducing our risk of this deadly disease. 

There are many recommendations and strategies we can use to make an impact on reducing our overall cancer risk.  As far as dietary recommendations go, using your eating pattern to reduce your risk of cancer works in two ways:

·      Decreasing your consumption of certain foods can help reduce your risk because those foods have been linked to cancer causation.

·      Increasing your consumption of other foods can help reduce your risk because those foods have been linked to cancer prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has shown that being overweight or obese substantially raises a person’s risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.  Plus a recent study published in the Journal of Women’s Health stated that diet-related factors are thought to account for about 30% of cancers in developed countries. 

Here are some ways to incorporate a healthier lifestyle when it comes to dietary choices and body weight:

Body fatness

One way is by achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight throughout our life.  This can be done through engaging in regular physical activity, limiting consumption of energy-dense foods and avoiding beverages with added sugars.

Plant-based foods

Another way is to consume more plant-based foods with an emphasis on whole foods from plants.  Eating more fruits and vegetables is strongly linked to reduced risks of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.  Additionally, fruits are strongly linked to lowered risk of lung cancer.

Sadly, only 24% of Americans eat the recommended amounts of fruit and even fewer – 13% - eat the recommended amounts of vegetables.  The National Cancer Institute wholeheartedly backs up this claim by maintaining, “Higher consumption of vegetables in general may protect against some diseases, including some types of cancer.”

Eating at least 5 servings each day of fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains instead of refined grains, limiting intake of red meat and refined starchy foods can be of benefit to reducing cancer risk.

Alcoholic drinks

The latest data from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health indicates that alcohol is a known cause of cancer.  Heavy or regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity (excluding the lips), pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box),  esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum.  The risk of developing cancer increases with the amount of alcohol a person drinks.

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.  This means no more than two drinks a day for a man and no more than one drink a day for a woman.

Preserved, processed and prepared foods

Limit the consumption of salt-cured foods and processed meats as they can increase the risk of colorectal and stomach cancers.  This would include sausage, bacon, turkey bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, pastrami and deli meats.

Sugary beverages

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that people avoid sugary drinks in order to reduce their cancer risk.

Dietary supplements

The best way to obtain the necessary nutrients each day is to eat food and not take a supplement.  Unless a person has a deficiency of a nutrient, dietary supplements are usually not needed and have not been found to prevent cancer.  Our body absorbs and uses the nutrients from food far better than from a supplement.

A list of specific cancers and the food risk and protective factors associated with each of them

·      Breast (postmenopausal)

Risk factors - Alcoholic drinks, body fatness, abdominal fatness, and adult weight gain

Protective factors – Breastfeeding and healthy body weight

·      Colon and rectum

Risk factors – Red meat, processed meat, alcoholic drinks, body fatness, abdominal fatness

Protective factors – Physical activity, foods containing dietary fiber, garlic, milk, calcium

·      Endometrium

Risk factors – Body fatness, abdominal fatness, high-fat diet

Protective factors – Physical activity, more fruits and vegetables

·      Esophagus

Risk factors – Alcoholic drinks, body fatness

Protective factors – Nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, foods containing beta-carotene, foods containing vitamin C

·      Lung

Risk factors – Arsenic in drinking water, beta-carotene supplements

Protective factors – Fruits, foods containing carotenoids

·      Mouth, pharynx, and larynx

Risk factors – Alcoholic drinks

Protective factors – Nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, foods containing carotenoids

·      Pancreas

Risk factors – Body fatness, abdominal fatness

Protective factors – foods containing folate

·      Prostate

Risk factors – Diets high in calcium

Protective factors – Foods containing lycopene, foods containing selenium

·      Stomach

Risk factors – Salt, salty and salted foods

Protective factors – Nonstarchy vegetables, allium vegetables, fruits