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Nutrition and Cancer Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that almost 30% of all cancers are associated with poor nutrition. Food can both increase or decrease your risk of getting cancer and therefore, it’s better to know what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy!

Let’s start with foods which can make you more prone to cancer and foods which can prevent you from developing cancer.

Foods that can increase the risk of cancer development…

  1. Increased consumption of red meats or processed meats!
    • Processed meats (such as cured, salted, or dried meat) contain a high amount of salt and other additives which may lead to cancers such as colorectal cancers. On the other hand, red meats (such as lamb, pork, goat, and beef) have been found to be associated with colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
    • The American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund suggests limiting the intake of red meats up to <500g weekly and no to very little (if any) processed meat.
  2. Sugars and refined carbohydrates are a No Go!
    • Drinking artificially sweetened beverages, energy drinks, lattes and eating foods with high sugar content can also increase your chances of getting cancer.
      (Note: Avoid consuming products which have ingredients ending at -ose such as maltose, dextrose, sucrose and fructose on their label)
    • When you eat sugars and refined carbohydrates your blood sugar level peaks up, as a result, your body produces insulin to balance this high sugar level. When you keep eating these foods without a check, your body can no longer compensate for high sugar levels. This may result in diabetes.
    • Diabetes and cancer occur together very often. Furthermore, researchers have found an association between diabetes and increased risk of pancreatic, colon, rectal, gallbladder, liver and even breast cancer.
  3. Packaged and processed foods can be damaging for health!
    • Ice-creams, burgers, candies, instant noodles, energy bars etc. are all classified as ultra-processed foods.
    • These foods have high contents of salt, sugar, unhealthy saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and low vitamins and fiber levels. Furthermore, their packaging and additives or preservatives added in them can also be carcinogenic (compounds which have the ability to form cancer).
    • Studies have shown that all these factors make processed foods harmful to your health in general and can cause cancer.
  4. Saturated fats can also cause cancer!
    • Saturated fats and trans fats are notorious types of fats. Foods such as poultry with skin, fatty beef, lamb, pork, cheese, and butter etc. have high contents of these unhealthy fats.
    • Numerous studies have shown that people who consume large quantities of these foods are more prone to becoming obese and developing inflammation that can ultimately lead to colon, rectal and other forms of cancer.
    • However, unsaturated fats obtained from nuts, salmon, and a few vegetables are healthy for us. They regulate our cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. It’s always better to choose unsaturated fats over saturated ones as they reduce the risk of heart diseases and especially cancer.

Unfortunately, most of the foods or snacks we love are the ones we need to avoid! …

However, just like every cloud has a silver lining … There are foods which can satisfy your appetite, make your body healthy and provide nutrition necessary for prevention of diseases, especially cancer.

Foods that can help in preventing cancer…

  1. Vegetables and fruits are your body’s best friend!
    • These along with fresh fruit juices, vegetable oils not only make our immune system strong but also help us in fighting cancer development.
    • High amounts of antioxidants (Vitamin A, C, E) present in vegetables and fruits are very effective in reducing the risk of cancer.
    • Calcium obtained from green leafy vegetables decreases the risk of colorectal cancers.
    • Olives and avocados are rich in unsaturated fats. These fats can help in reducing the risk of cancer.
    • Vegetables, beans and cereals have folate in them. Deficiency of folate in blood increases your risk of cancer. Therefore, having an adequate amount of folate in body can also prevent cancer formation.
    • Soy and soy products are helpful in fighting off hormone related cancers.
    • Tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit have a phytochemical known as lycopene which also plays a significant role in cancer prevention.
  2. Dietary fiber reduces the risk of cancer and obesity!
    • Food containing dietary fibers are also very important in providing adequate nutrition and preventing cancer. Lentils, barley oats, seeds, leafy greens, legumes etc. are extremely rich in fiber content.
    • They protect us against cancer, reduce our cholesterol level, lower the blood sugar level and also keeps our body weight in check. According to AICR, 5 servings of fruit/vegetables and 3 servings of whole grains provide us with adequate levels of fiber per day to fight off cancer and other diseases.
  3. Vitamins are necessary to fight off any chances of cancer development!
    • Vitamin A, C, D, and E have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer. Vitamin A (carrots, spinach, bell peppers etc.) in both forms beta carotene and retinol reduces the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer.
    • Vitamin C (citrus fruits and peppers etc.) also decreases the risk of cancer.
    • Vitamin D (exposure to UV rays, milk and cereals) can also reduce the risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer.
    • Lastly, Vitamin E which is a strong antioxidant has also found to be associated with a significantly reduced risk of cancer in numerous studies.
  4. Flavonoids can kill cancer cells!
    • These are plant-based nutrients obtained from citrus fruits, berries, red wine, apples and more. These plant-based chemicals work by inhibiting the cancer growth, activating the killing of cancer cells and stopping its spread to other parts of the body.
    • Multiple studies have shown that flavonoids are very beneficial in preventing lung, colon, breast and pancreatic cancer.

Bottomline

Cancer might sound one heck of a disease but it can totally be prevented mainly by adding nutritious food into your diet, skipping unhealthy meals, and making some necessary lifestyle changes!

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