Nutrition Corner – Reduce your risk of cancer through diet

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Nutrition Corner – Reduce your risk of cancer through diet
By BABS CARLSON, Ph.D., RD

Current research suggests that diets low in fat and high in fiber, combined with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, may reduce the risk of developing several forms of cancer, therefore promoting a healthy lifespan.

Protective foods to add to your diet:

Vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard, mustard and collard greens, appear to offer protection against cancers of the colon, rectum and stomach. High in vitamins and minerals but low in calories, try broccoli raw in a salad, stir-fried in a small amount of oil with chicken breasts, onions, garlic and mushrooms, or lightly steamed with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Fiber. Fiber appears to dilute possible cancer-causing substances in the intestinal tract and can help reduce cholesterol when part of a low fat diet. Fiber comes in at least a dozen different delicious forms, including whole grain breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as high protein beans and legumes. Eating a variety of high fiber foods is the best approach to a healthful diet.

High in vitamins.  Vitamins A, C and E are cell antioxidants, and seem to protect against cancers of the esophagus, larynx and lungs. Beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A, can be identified by the rich orange and green pigments found in fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, broccoli, kale and spinach. For vitamin C, choose grapefruit, oranges, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, red bell peppers and tomatoes.  Vitamin E is another antioxidant and is found in dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale, spinach and collard greens.

Risk factors to reduce:

Obesity. Obesity is linked to increased risk of cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, breast and colon.  Reducing total caloric intake and increasing exercise are the essential components of a successful weight management program. Lowering your fat intake is the most effective way to decrease total caloric intake, and adding moderate exercise will help maintain the reduced weight.

High-fat diet. High-fat diets are likely to be high-calorie diets.  A high-fat diet by itself increases the risk of developing breast, colon and prostate cancers. Diets high in saturated and trans fats are also linked to elevated cholesterol levels, a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. No more than 35 percent of daily calorie intake should come from fat. This is the equivalent of about 50-80 grams of fat per day for the average American.

Salt-cured, smoked and nitrate-cured foods.  Cancers of the esophagus and stomach are common in countries where large quantities of salt-cured and nitrate-cured foods are consumed. Food companies in the United States have changed to liquid smoke for the smoking process, but it is still prudent to eat these products only on special occasions. High salt diets are also associated with high blood pressure and kidney disease.  Reduce salt intake to 2400 mg sodium daily.

Alcohol consumption. Excessive consumption of alcohol is linked to cancers of the pancreas and esophagus, nutrient deficiency diseases and cirrhosis of the liver. Additionally, excessive alcohol intake can contribute to a high caloric intake, and therefore obesity. Moderate intake of alcohol is no more than one to two alcohol equivalents per day.  An alcohol equivalent is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor.

Intake of food additives. Food additives, especially preservatives, were originally added to foods to protect them from spoilage. Additives are now used to help foods look, taste, smell and feel better. Additives can be safe in small quantities. However, to avoid overdosing on these additives, eat fresh, minimally processed foods whenever possible, read food labels and choose foods with the least number of additives, and include more raw fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Babs Carlson, Ph.D. RD, is a registered dietitian at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center’s Lifestyle Center.  For more information, call 757-312-6132 or visit www.chesapeakeregional.com.

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