The Anti-Cancer Diet
CANCER NUTRITION TIPS AND CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS
Not all health problems are avoidable, but you have more control over your health than you may think. Research shows that a large percentage of cancer-related deaths—maybe even the majority—are directly linked to lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. Avoiding cigarettes, limiting alcohol, and getting regular exercise are a great start to an anti-cancer lifestyle. But to best support your health, you also need to look at your eating habits.
What you eat—and don’t eat—has a powerful effect on your health, including your risk of cancer. Without knowing it, you may be eating many foods that fuel cancer, while neglecting the powerful foods and nutrients that can protect you. If you change your diet and behaviors, you can minimize your risk of disease and possibly even stop cancer in its tracks.
The best diet for preventing or fighting cancer is a predominantly plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A plant-based diet means eating mostly foods that come from plants: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and beans.
The less processed these foods are—the less they’ve been cooked, peeled, mixed with other ingredients, stripped of their nutrients, or otherwise altered from the way they came out of the ground—the better.
There are many ways to add plant-based foods to your diet. A nice visual reminder is to aim for a plate of food that is filled at least two-thirds with whole grains, vegetables, beans, or fruit. Dairy products, fish, and meat should take up no more than a third of the plate. Keep in mind that you don’t need to go completely vegetarian. Instead, focus on adding “whole” foods, which are foods close to their original form. Just as important, try to minimize or reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. Eat an apple instead of drinking a glass of apple juice, for example. Or enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with raisins instead of an oatmeal raisin cookie.
Simple tips for getting more plant-based foods in your diet
Another benefit of eating plant-based foods is that it will also increase your fiber intake. Fiber, also called roughage or bulk, is the part of plants (grains, fruits, and vegetables) that your body can’t digest. Fiber plays a key role in keeping your digestive system clean and healthy. It helps keep food moving through your digestive tract, and it also moves cancer-causing compounds out before they can create harm.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber. There is no fiber in meat, dairy, sugar, or “white” foods like white bread, white rice, and pastries.
Simple ways to add more fiber to your diet:
Research shows that vegetarians are about fifty percent less likely to develop cancer than those who eat meat. So what’s the link between meat and cancer risk? First, meat lacks fiber and other nutrients that have been shown to have cancer-protective properties. What it does have in abundance, however, is fat—often very high levels of saturated fat. High-fat diets have been linked to higher rates of cancer. And saturated fat is particularly dangerous. Finally, depending on how it is prepared, meat can develop carcinogenic compounds.
Making better meat and protein choices
You don’t need to cut out meat completely and become a vegetarian. But most people consume far more meat than is healthy. You can cut down your cancer risk substantially by reducing the amount of animal-based products you eat and by choosing healthier meats.
A major benefit of cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is that you will automatically cut out a lot of unhealthy fat. Eating a diet high in fat increases your risk for many types of cancer. But cutting out fat entirely isn’t the answer, either. In fact, some types of fat may actually protect against cancer. The trick is to choose your fats wisely and eat them in moderation.
Tips for choosing cancer-fighting fats and avoiding the bad
Your immune system keeps you healthy by fighting off unwanted invaders in your system, including cancer cells. There are many things you can eat to maximize the strength of your immune system, as well as many cancer-fighting foods. But keep in mind that there is no single miracle food or ingredient that will protect you against cancer. Eating a colorful variety gives you the best protection.
Choosing healthy food is not the only important factor. It also matters how you prepare and store your food. The way you cook your food can either help or hurt your anti-cancer efforts.
Preserving the cancer-fighting benefits of vegetables
Here are a few tips that will help you get the most benefits from eating all those great cancer-fighting vegetables:
Cooking and carcinogens
Carcinogens are cancer-causing substances found in food. Carcinogens can form during the cooking or preserving process—mostly in relation to meat—and as foods start to spoil. Examples of foods that have carcinogens are cured, dried, and preserved meats (e.g. bacon, sausage, beef jerky); burned or charred meats; smoked foods; and foods that have become moldy. Here are some ways reduce your exposure to carcinogens: