fruits, vegetables and nuts

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cancer & Your Diet: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Every year, more than 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer. It’s a scary diagnosis but, thankfully, most cancer is preventable. Not using tobacco, wearing sunscreen and exercising are all great ways to try and avoid it. But you also can’t forget about your diet. More and more research has shown that while certain foods can help lower the risk of cancer, others may increase it. But with all the conflicting information out there, how do you know which is which? Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to what’s in your kitchen.

THE GOOD - Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables provide a one-two punch in the fight against cancer. Not only do they contain specific cancer-fighting nutrients, but they also help you maintain a healthy body weight. For the most benefit, eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark green, red, and orange varieties. The more color the better! Here’s a look at some cancer-fighting foods.

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Coffee
  • Cranberries
  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale
  • Dry beans and peas
  • Fish
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes and grape juice
  • Green Tea
  • Pomegranates
  • Soy
  • Tomatoes
  • Walnuts
  • Whole grains

THE BAD - Alcohol

Studies have found that drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting six kinds of cancer: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon and rectum. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your cancer risk.

The problem lies in how the body breaks down the alcohol. During that process, the body creates a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. When that happens, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends not drinking any alcohol. But, if you do, they recommend keeping it to one drink a day for women and two a day for men.

THE UGLY - Red and Processed Meat

The latest research shows that eating more than 18 ounces of red meat per week increases the risk of colorectal cancer. The World Health Organization has even labeled processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans,” and red meat as, “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Red meat is any meat that comes from a mammal including beef, lamb and pork.

Processed meat is meat that’s been modified from its natural state through salting, curing, smoking or fermentation to make it taste better and last longer. An occasional hot dog or club sandwich is no big deal, but to lower your risk of colorectal and stomach cancers, cut way back on deli meat, bologna, bacon, sausage and hot dogs.   

Why are these meats so damaging to the body? Researchers aren’t totally sure how red meat affects the development of colorectal cancer, but it contains compounds that have been shown to damage the lining of the gut. As for processed meat, researchers say the preservatives may lead to cancer-causing compounds in the body. 

The Importance of a Healthy Weight

Other than tobacco products, one of the biggest risk factors for cancer is increased body weight, diet, and lack of exercise.  The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are related to body fat and inactivity. Carrying extra pounds increases the risk for multiple cancers, including colon, esophagus, and kidney cancers.

Fat has been correlated with producing excessive estrogen, which has been known to drive several types of breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential to avoiding cancer in the first place and preventing it from coming back once you’re in remission.

There are certain things that increase our cancer risk that we can’t control, like genetics and the aging process. But the good news is that there are many things we can do lower our risk. So remember these tips the next time you go to the grocery store or to a restaurant. You might just find that grilled salmon is just as tasty as a ribeye.

At the Norman Regional Oncology Clinic, we combine the latest technology in diagnostic and medical imaging, comprehensive laboratory services, inpatient and outpatient services, nutrition and social services in one location. For more information, call 405-321-4644.