This is NOT a news flash....The better and healthier the diet, the better and healthier you. A healthy, balanced diet can help keep you nourished, active, at an optimum weight and extend your life. But did you also know that some foods help to decrease the risk of certain types of cancer? That’s right, there are lots of foods with beneficial properties. Adrienne Pullins and Brandy Gerling, registered dietitians (RD) with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health, offer some insights on cancer-fighting foods.
It starts with the healthy basics
There’s no magic anti-cancer diet, but research tells us that eating more of certain foods can lower your risk of cancer, while limiting or avoiding certain other foods may help decrease risk of developing certain cancers. For example, a diet rich in fruits and veggies and healthy fats can lower your risk of cancers such as breast cancer. However on the other hand, if you have a diet high in processed deli meats, fried foods, and sweets such as cookies and ice cream, it could increase your risk for certain cancer such as colorectal cancer. There’s not a single food to prevent cancer, but the right combination of foods may make a difference.
Take a fresh look
Your “just say no to cancer” diet should be built around antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables nuts, beans, whole grains, and healthy fats. Antioxidants boost your immune system and help protect your body against harmful cells including cancer cells. The American Institute for Cancer Research advocates the “New American Plate” to create meals that lower your cancer risk and manage your weight. Essentially, your meals should consist of at least two-thirds plant-based food and one-third or less of animal protein. How do you do that?
The colors of the rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are filled with cancer-fighting nutrients and eating a variety of colors will nourish your body and help you function at your best. Fruits and veggies are also naturally low in calories, which can help you maintain a healthy body weight.
- Cruciferous Vegetables – Studies have linked vegetables such as bok choy, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage to lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
- Berries – Berries are high in antioxidant properties, which help protect the body against free radicals and inflammation.
- Leafy Greens – Spinach and dark lettuces - spinach and lettuce are good sources of the antioxidants and vitamin K, vitamin c, and fiber.
- Tomatoes – Some studies have shown eating tomatoes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
- Grapes – Grapes contain an antioxidant called resveratrol, which helps decrease inflammation and protects your heart.
Keep things moving with fiber
Fiber (roughage or bulk) is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans/lentils. It plays a key role in helping move things through your digestive system and promote healthy gut bacteria. Additionally, whole grains are thought to contain antioxidants that may lower your risk of cancer.
This and that
- Green Tea – Even though the evidence is not conclusive, green tea may be a strong cancer fighter. In various studies, it may slow or prevent the growth of cancer in colon, liver, breast, and prostate cells, lung tissue and skin cells.
- Garlic – The main compound in garlic has been shown in some studies to destroy cancer cells.
- Beans – These super fighters contain several potent properties that may protect the body's cells against damage that can lead to cancer.
- Turmeric – Most frequently found in curry dishes, its active ingredient is a compound called curcumin that research shows may help prevent several forms of cancer.
Some studies have found increased intake of nuts lowers the risk of some cancers. Plus, nuts fall in the category of “healthy fats,” which are good for you. Grab a handful of almonds, walnuts, pecans or peanuts for a little boost, and losing the salted option with nuts, is also good for your heart.
About those good fats
Some fat is necessary for a healthy diet. The secret lies in making sure they’re the right kinds of fat.
- Omega 3 fats, which are linked to reduced cancer risk, are found in freshwater fish such as wild salmon and mackerel, as well as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats form the staple of the healthy Mediterranean diet and include:
- Olive and Canola oil
- Nuts (low or no-salt) almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
- Seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chia seed, flaxseed)
What about asparagus?
Can asparagus cure cancer? Yea, not likely. It seems to be an urban myth. That said, roasted, grilled or steamed is a great veggie in your rainbow repertoire.
The Bad and the Ugly
Just as some foods boost our cancer-fighting others can scuttle our efforts.
- Limit or avoid processed and fried foods, unhealthy fats, sugars and refined carbs. (Packaged donuts, muffins, cakes, even pizza dough)
- Cut way back on fizzy drinks, sugary cereals and other highly processed foods
- And while you’re at it, limit pre-packaged snack foods like crackers and chips
- Limit your red meat (such as beef and pork)
- Go easy on the salt shaker
- Put the glass down after no more than two drinks (men) and one drink (women)
- Limit or avoid stick margarine, vegetable shortening, and lard
- Fried foods (fries, nuggets, fish sticks, fried chicken) should be the rarity, not the norm
What about if you have cancer
How you eat plays a huge role in how you feel and your body’s ability to stay as strong and well as possible during cancer treatment, Pullins and Gerling stress. And just when your body most needs nutrients, you may not have any appetite. There’s no special diet for when you undergo cancer treatments, it should just have a balance of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and fats as a normal diet.
Partners in Cancer Prevention and Care
The doctors and support team at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health have experience and expertise in all kinds of cancers, as well as experts to keep you healthy. Our physicians are board certified in medical oncology, radiation oncology and other specialties. Our Sarah Cannon Cancer Centers also offer the services of counselors, dietitians, social workers and others to partner with you on a cancer journey.