Anti-Cancer Foods

Fight cancer with your fork; It's an idea that encourages us to choose a healthy diet and avoid foods that pack on pounds and prepare the body for cancer and other chronic diseases.
Being on board with this approach is not a problem. However, figuring out what to eat can feel a bit overwhelming. This is partly because, due to the nature of scientific studies, we cannot say for sure that certain foods will stop or prevent cancer. "Diet studies in general are very difficult to do. They usually fall into the category of people remembering what they ate over time and then making correlations," says Dr. Dale Shepard, oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
However, some links between diet and health have been consistently demonstrated.
Direct effects
Certain foods and drinks have been shown to be strongly linked to cancer. They include:
- Red meat such as beef, pork or lamb. Red meat is high in iron, which can contribute to cancer growth, especially colon cancer (colon or rectal cancer). The red meat cancer association may also have something to do with the way meat is cooked. "Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when meat is exposed to high temperatures during cooking, especially grilling, and have been linked to colon cancer," said Rebecca Hively, nutritionist at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
- Processed meat like bacon, ham or hot dogs. "In this case, the link might have something to do with the way meat is processed," says Shepard. "It often contains nitrates and nitrites, which can damage cells at the DNA level, causing them to grow abnormally."
- alcohol. "Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, rectum, pancreas and stomach. The more alcohol you drink, the higher the risk," notes Katrina Hartog, director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Mount Sinai Health System.
[READ: Avoid These Carcinogenic Foods.]
Indirect cancer links
Eating a generally unhealthy diet can also affect your risk of cancer. Eating many processed, fatty, sugary, or high-calorie foods or beverages can lead to two diseases that play a role in the development of cancer.
- being overweight or obese. "One of the main ways that being overweight increases the risk of cancer is by causing the body to make and circulate more estrogen and insulin. Both are hormones that can stimulate cancer growth," says Hartog. Obesity is linked to cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, endometrium, esophagus, pancreas, liver, and kidney. "It is estimated that up to 10% of cancers in women and 5% in men are due to obesity," says Shepard.
- Chronic inflammation. Both obesity and an unhealthy diet promote chronic inflammation. "The inflammatory process starts when chemicals are released through damaged tissue, which then causes white blood cells to produce substances that cause cells to divide and grow. This is the process of tissue repair and growth. The process doesn't stop when he should, "explains Hively. "Over time, chronic inflammation in the body can lead to DNA damage that can lead to cancer."
Anti cancer foods
To fight cancer through diet, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends plant-based eating habits with plant-based foods like vegetables, legumes, and grains filling about two-thirds of your plate. The diet can also include moderate amounts of animal-based foods, provided that these do not make up more than a third of each meal.
Several diets fit the bill, including:
- A vegetarian diet (with or without dairy products or fish).
- A Mediterranean diet (including poultry and fish).
What these diets have in common:
- Whole, unprocessed vegetables and fruits (the more colorful the better).
- Whole grain products (not refined like white bread).
- Legumes (such as beans or lentils).
- seeds and nuts.
- Lean protein (like fish).
- vegetable oils (such as olive or rapeseed oil).
- Low fat dairy products.
How they help in the fight against cancer development:
- They're loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals like flavonoids) that work together to reduce chronic inflammation and have cancer-fighting effects.
- Plant foods are high in fiber. "Fiber helps move food up the GI tract," says Shepard. "Foods that sit in the gastrointestinal tract longer than they should affect the types of bacteria and inflammation in the intestines."
[See: The Best Herbal Diets.]
To make it work
Gradually switch to a healthier diet so it doesn't feel restrictive and you have a better chance of maintaining the eating pattern. Keeping a food diary can be helpful in keeping track of what you are eating and how your diet is improving.
Don't feel that you can't cheat every now and then. "It's not like a piece of bacon causes cancer. But don't make it a main ingredient or a base of your food pyramid," says Shepard. "Moderation in everything is sensible."
Other tips that can help:
- Buy healthier foods. Have fresh produce, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains handy so you have real (unprocessed) food available when you feel hungry.
- Look out for food labels. "Avoid or limit foods with high added sugar," advises Hartog.
- Use healthier cooking methods. "Prepare food by baking, roasting or poaching instead of frying or boiling it," recommends Hartog.
- Drink enough. "Consume water rather than sweetened drinks," recommends Hively.
- Avoid or limit alcohol consumption. The guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.
[See: 8 Questions To Ask Your Doctor About Colon Cancer.]
Beyond cancer drugs
It takes more than a healthy diet to avoid cancer. You also need to lead a healthy lifestyle that includes weight control. "It's not just about fighting cancer with your fork. It's not being used with your fork too often, so you are fighting obesity," Shepard points out.
Other important components of a healthy lifestyle are:
- Daily exercise. Aim for 30 minutes a day or exercise at least 120 minutes of moderate intensity (like brisk walking) a week.
- Get enough sleep. Try to get seven or eight hours a night.
- stress reduction. Chronic stress triggers chronic inflammation. Meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga can help reduce stress.
-- Stop smoking. Smoking is directly related to many types of cancer.
All aspects of a healthy lifestyle work together to provide you with a better chance of fighting off cancer. "There's nothing," says Shepard. "It's all about balance."
Heidi Godman reports on health for US News, with a focus on middle and older ages. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications, including the Harvard Health Letter (where she is editor-in-chief), the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.

Heidi worked for more than 20 years as a TV news anchor and health reporter at the ABC subsidiary WWSB and for more than five years as the presenter of a daily health talk radio show at WSRQ-FM. Heidi has interviewed surgeons in operating rooms, scientists in laboratories and patients at all stages of treatment. She has received numerous awards for outstanding health reports and was the first television station in the country to be named a Journalist by the American Academy of Neurology. Heidi graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in journalism.

Connect with Heidi on Linkedin or send an email to health@heidigodman.com.
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