The Role of Nutrition
According to the American Cancer Society, research indicates that about one third of U.S. cancer deaths are related to diet. And among people who don’t smoke, physical activity and dietary habits are the two biggest cancer risk factors that you can control. If you’re looking to pack your diet with foods that might help you prevent cancer, key components are fruits and vegetables.
The National Cancer Institute, The World Health Organization and the American Institute for Cancer Research, among other organizations, recommend 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Why? Because fruits and vegetables are rich in “micronutrients” that boost the immune system. They contain antioxidants (vitamins and other essential elements), which are believed to fight the effects of cancer-causing oxidation that occurs at the cellular level.
Eating five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent cancer. Foods rich in cancer-protective chemicals include
- Cabbage-family vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts)
- Dried beans and peas
- Deep yellow-orange vegetables and fruits
- Citrus fruits
- Dried fruits (prunes, raisins, etc.)
Foods to avoid
Some studies have shown that populations that eat a high fat diet have higher incidences of breast and prostate cancer. Other studies show that people who eat a so-called “Western diet” have higher rates of colon cancer. In general, if you want to keep your risk of cancer as low as possible, the kinds of foods you should limit or avoid include
- Hydrogenated and saturated fats (found in most snack foods and fast foods)
- Refined sugars (white bread, sugary desserts, white pasta)
- Red meat (try to limit to three to four times per week)
- Fried food
A simple message
It sounds complicated to talk about antioxidants, micronutrients and hydrogenated fats. But the basic message is simple:
- Eat plenty of foods that are high in vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid eating a lot of foods that have been highly processed, like snack foods and cured meats, because food as close to its natural state as possible has the most nutrients and the least cancer-causing agents.
- Stay away from fast food most of the time.
- Try to make sure your foods have a variety of colors, because that gives you the range of vitamins and minerals you need. (This means the greens, yellows, oranges, reds and blues of fruits and vegetables, not the bright orange of
The American Cancer Society; American Institute for Cancer Research; The National Cancer Institute; A.Weil. Eating Well for Optimum Health. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2001.