The Anticancer Diet
Eat to tip the odds in your favor
Don't you wish there were a diet that could assure you a life free from
cancer? Most experts agree it doesn't exist -- yet. But there is a way to eat
and live that could put the odds of preventing cancer in your favor.
The dietary habits that tend to increase our cancer risk come down to too
much and too little: Too much red meat, alcohol, fried foods, refined
carbohydrates and sugars, and too much body fat; too few phytochemical-rich
plant foods and too little exercise. (Of course, you already know you shouldn't
smoke or get too much sun.)
To decrease our risk, for example, we want to eat whole grains (such as
whole wheat, barley, and oats) and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Many fruits
and vegetables have cancer-fighting potential. For example, lycopene, a
phytochemical found in cooked tomatoes and tomato products, has been shown to
slow the growth of breast, lung, and endometrial tumors and to reduce prostate,
stomach, and pancreatic cancer risks.
Randall Oyer, MD, chairman of medical oncology at John Muir Medical Center
in Walnut Creek, Calif., isn't afraid to say that nutrition plays a role in
cancer prevention, but he cautions against making a connection within a short
time frame. "What a person has been eating a year before they were
diagnosed with breast cancer, for example, probably isn't as relevant as what
they've been eating a decade or two before," he explains.
And most cancer researchers admit there's stronger scientific evidence for a
link between diet and colon cancer, for example, than for one between diet and
breast cancer -- the cancer that so many women fear the most. But we're
learning more every day.
In the past year, scores of studies have been published on diet and breast
cancer alone. And more and more of this research is distinguishing between the
effects that certain nutrients have on women before menopause and after.
In my opinion, future studies also should look at the differences between
types of fat and types of carbohydrates. Some studies have suggested that
higher-fiber, high-phytochemical plant foods (which are rich in carbohydrates)
may have protective effects, while refined carbohydrates and sugars may have
negative ones. Others have suggested that olive oil (and monounsaturated fat)
and omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce breast cancer risks.
Should It Really Be "10-a-Day"?
Although some earlier scientific studies failed to find a link between
eating vegetables and fruits and reduced risk for some types of cancers, more
recent ones are reversing that trend.
For example, a recent study in Northern Italy suggested that raw vegetables
may help protect against both breast and prostate cancer. Other research has
indicated that cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage)
may play a role in reducing breast-cancer risks in premenopausal women. One of
the benefits of cruciferous veggies may be their abundant supply of
isothiocyanates. These phytochemicals may help increase certain enzymes that
detoxify cancer-promoting chemicals.