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The Anticancer Diet

Eat to tip the odds in your favor

Dietary Fat's Cancer Connection

Dietary Fat. Several new studies support the theory that higher-fat diets may increase breast cancer risks. But while the relationship between a high-fat diet and breast cancer is still in question, that's not the case for other cancers. The American Cancer Society says high-fat diets are associated with an increased risk of colon, rectal, prostate, and endometrial cancers. It also says the consumption of meat -- especially red meat -- has been linked to colon and prostate cancers. And gram for gram, fat has more than twice the calories of carbohydrates and protein, meaning excessive amounts are likely to cause weight gain.

But there may be an advantage to eating a lower-fat, higher-carbohydrate diet that has more to do with detecting breast cancer than preventing it. There is evidence that such a diet may decrease breast tissue density, making mammograms easier to read.

Bottom line: Avoid high fat meals to decrease the risk of colon, prostate, and endometrial cancers; to possibly decrease breast-tissue density; and to discourage weight gain.

Folic Acid. Judith Christman, PhD, with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is studying how diets lacking in folic acid encourage the cancer process. "When diets lack folic acid," explains Christman, "the structure of the cell's genetic material becomes disrupted. If cells misread normal or read damaged genetic information and reproduce, cancer can develop."

If you drink alcohol, you've got another reason to eat foods rich in folic acid. A recent Mayo Clinic study reported that women who consumed the lowest amount of folic acid and the highest amount of alcohol had a 59% higher risk of breast cancer than women who never drank and whose folic acid intake was above the median.

If you're getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, including beans and peas, as well as fortified breads and cereals, you're likely meeting the recommended daily allowance for folic acid (400 micrograms).

Bottom line: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas (especially lentils and pinto beans, collard greens, spinach, and other dark-green vegetables).

Dietary Fat's Cancer Connection

Eating-Smart Guidelines

Many of us fear cancer more than any other disease. But any anti-cancer diet should parallel, as much as possible, dietary guidelines aimed at preventing disease in general.

Here are some smart-eating guidelines based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, as well as on what researchers know and suspect about diet and cancer.

  • If you drink alcohol, limit it to one drink a day. Even better, try less than three drinks a week. And make sure you're eating enough foods with folic acid (see above).
  • Keep extra weight off by exercising almost every day (consult your doctor before starting an exercise program) and trying not to overdo fat and sugar.
  • Aim for nine to 10 servings (about 1/2 cup each) of a variety of fruits and vegetables a day. Try to include a cup of dark green vegetables and a cup of an orange fruit and/or vegetable.
  • Eat fish two to three times a week, to take the place of meats high in saturated fats and as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Eat beans (including soybean products) three times a week to take the place of red meat and as a source of folic acid (in lentils and pinto beans), fiber, and assorted phytochemicals.
  • Have several servings of whole-grain foods each day.
  • Find satisfying substitutes for foods you love to eat that are lower in calories, lower in fat, and higher in nutrients including fiber.
  • Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products and substitute canola and olive oil for butter, lard, and margarines high in trans fats.

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