Cancer is one of the most feared diseases in our society; however, most of us are unaware of how we can reduce our risk of developing this disease.
Cancer starts as a single abnormal cell that multiplies out of control. As they group together, they begin to form tumors that can invade healthy body tissue. We all hear about carcinogens, but few actually realize these substances come from the air we breath, or the food we eat (think pesticides and hormones!), and can sometimes alter a cell’s genetic material (DNA). It can take weeks, or even years for a tumor to develop, but certain compounds can inhibit these cells from growing.
Which foods should I eat? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains-and plenty of them. Not only are these foods high in fiber and nutrition, they also contain numerous cancer-fighting substances. Proven cancer preventatives are Carotenoids-the pigments that give vegetables and fruit their dark colors. Other preventatives are flavones and indoles, which are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and turnips. These are believed to have anti-cancer activities particularly with colon cancers. Beta-carotene, found in yellow, orange, and dark green vegetables, help prevent and protect against bladder and lung cancer. A decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease has been clearly linked with eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Many citrus fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C, which can lower the risk for stomach cancer. As an antioxidant, Vitamin C blocks the conversion of nitrates to cancer-causing nitrosamine in the stomach, and neutralizes cancer-causing substances that form in the body. Plant sources in this category include green peppers, leafy green vegetables, oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries. Folic acid, involved in the synthesis, repair and function of DNA, can also be found in leafy green vegetables.
Whole grains are very important to an anti-cancer diet. Selenium is found in whole grains and shows the same antioxidant effects as vitamin C and beta-carotene. Vitamin E shows the same promising results. Whole grains, also found in legumes, apples, blackberries, citrus, and raspberries, add beneficial fiber. Studies show that a diet high in fiber reduces diseases of the digestive tract. Many theories exist on how fiber exactly protects against the development of cancer. Since fiber cannot be digested early in the digestive tract, it is believed fiber assists food in moving quickly though the intestines before cancerous cells can develop. According to studies from the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer, colon cancer, and stomach cancer are less common on high-fiber diets.
Which foods should I avoid? Avoiding non-organic, or non-certified produce is a good start. Most produce will contain trace amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, chemical sprays, fungicides and pesticides. However, if organic foods are not available in your area, a thorough washing can also be affective.
Avoid high levels of fat consumption. One study showed an astounding 200 percent increase in breast cancer among those who consume beef or pork five to six times per week (Bingham, SA., 1988). Fat intake should be well below 30 percent to have an anti-cancer affect, and a lower intake would be more effective.
In conclusion, cancer prevention should begin with a high-fiber and low fat diet that includes large portions of organic fruits and vegetables.
Malter M. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other blood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr and Cancer. 1989;12:271-8.
Kritchevsky D. Diet, nutrition, and cancer: the role of fiber. Cancer. 1986;58:1830-6.
Bingham SA. Meat, starch, and non-starch polysaccharides and bowel cancer. Am J Clin. Nutr 1988;48:762-7.