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The Anticancer Diet

Eat to tip the odds in your favor

Should It Really Be "10-a-Day"? continued...

While we're on the subject of broccoli, another phytochemical in this vegetable recently made medical news. A report from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the first to show how the isothyiocyanate found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale -- called sulphoraphane -- can block late stages of the cancer process. Using human breast cancer cells in the lab, researchers were able to hinder the growth of the cancer -- much like certain drugs do.

Various fruits and vegetables have also been scientifically linked with prevention of colon, mouth, esophageal, lung, and stomach cancers. Population studies have repeatedly suggested that certain types of produce -- dark green vegetables; tomatoes; citrus; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage; and carotene-rich ones such as carrots and cantaloupe -- reduce overall cancer risk.

More and more studies are being done all the time. But obviously, fruits and vegetables are very important to our health in general. It's hard to argue with those food choices!

Bottom line: Strive to eat 10 servings (about 1/2 cup is a serving) of fruits and vegetables a day, choosing carotene-rich produce, dark green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, and citrus when possible.

Specific Nutrients or Foods with an Anti-Cancer Connection

Flaxseed. This sesame-like seed has three things going for it. Ground flaxseeds contain soluble fiber, alphalinolenic acid (a form of healthy omega-3 fatty acid), and are the richest source of lignans (phytoestrogens that function like antioxidants) on the planet. These are not to be confused with flaxseed oil, which contains just the oils from flaxseed, not the fiber or plant estrogens.

Studies in rats have shown a reduction in the number and growth of breast tumors. And encouraging results from the first human flaxseed-breast cancer study were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December 2000. The study showed that adding a reasonable amount of flaxseed (the study used a muffin containing 25 grams of flaxseed) for about 38 days reduced tumor growth in people with breast cancer -- similar to benefits seen with the drug tamoxifen.

Further, one more recently published study found that premenopausal women whose diets contained the most lignans were 34% less likely to get breast cancer than women whose diets had the least lignans. (Other good sources of lignans include whole grains, strawberries, cantaloupe, onions, grapefruit, winter squash, and carrots.)

Bottom line: Although more research needs to be done, adding a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your smoothie, muffin, or meatloaf, a few times a week may be helpful. (At the least, it increases the fiber and the plant omega-3 fatty acid content of your diet.)

Soy. The scientific battle over whether soy increases or decreases breast cancer risks continued this year. Increasingly, experts are suggesting that early exposure to soy -- such as during the teenage years -- may help protect women from developing breast cancer later on. Many questions remain on breast cancer and soy, but studies that are going on now may shed more light on this issue.

Still, adding soy to your diet has been shown to lower cholesterol. It may also reduce bone loss in postmenopausal women; our government is spending about $10 million to research this potential benefit.

Bottom line: At the very least, soy foods provide high-quality protein. So a couple of servings per day seem like a good idea.

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