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Cancer Health Center

Eating to Fight Cancer

Anticancer Diet
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Simple Plan continued...

"Eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day will do a lot to decrease cancer risk," says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition for the American Institute of Cancer Research, or AICR.

Getting that many servings doesn't have to be hard, says Polk.

"Make it simple," she says. "Add a handful of blueberries to your cereal in the morning. If you're having a sandwich at lunch, throw in lots of tomato slices as well as lettuce. Broccoli can be added to soups or sprinkled over pizza with olives, onions, and mushrooms. Instead of having a packaged snack in the afternoon, have an apple or banana. It all helps."

Plant foods appear to be most protective against cancer. They are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and helpful phytochemicals.

"Preliminary evidence supports the speculation that substances in flaxseed may help block substances that promote cancer," says Magee. "Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and certain plant foods, including flaxseed, have been shown in animal studies to slow or prevent the growth of certain cancers."

Diet for High-Risk People

A good diet can even help those with a family history of certain cancers beat the odds.

"A history of cancer in the family doesn't mean that every person in the family will get it," says Polk. "For someone at high risk, diet should be included as part of an early-detection screening plan set up by their doctor."

For the person already diagnosed with cancer, the nutrition picture is a little murkier. No single answer serves everyone.

"Body changes may be caused by the patient's response to the tumor, the side effects of treatment, certain medications, or some combination of these," says Magee. "Some dietary practices, like supplementing with flaxseed, might compete with a drug like Tamoxifen. That's why it's important to discuss diet with your oncologist."

Polk recommends that cancer patients work with a dietitian to make dietary decisions.

"When a patient gets involved in decisions like treatment and diet they feel less passive, more like they're part of their own healthcare team," she says.

Originally published Sept. 30, 2002.

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