Research shows that a large percentage of cancer-related deaths, may be even the majority are directly linked to lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. The food you eat has a powerful effect on your health, including your risk of cancer. You may land up eating many foods that fuel cancer, while neglecting the powerful foods and nutrients that can protect you. If you change your diet and behaviour, you can minimize your risk of disease and possibly even stop cancer in its tracks.
Food Guidelines to prevent cancer:
1. Focus more on plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, pulses etc. Start your day with fruits and nuts. Have some whole grain cereal for breakfast. Make sure to have a big portion of salad with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot, cucumbers etc pre-lunch and pre-dinner. Carry snacks like fruits, trail mixes (sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, almonds, walnuts etc), opt for sandwiches with multigrain breads and lot of veggies in it.
2. Fiber is the key component to prevent cancer. All plant based foods are rich in fiber which helps to keep your digestive system clean and healthy and push the cancer causing compounds out of the gut before they can harm you. You can add fiber to your diet by replacing white rice with brown rice, eating the fruits with skin, choosing popcorn over potato chips etc.
3. Avoid processed foods. The more you eat food in its original form, the better protection it gives. For example instead of drinking orange juice, peel and eat the orange or prepare oatmeal porridge with raisins rather than having an oatmeal raisin cookie.
4. Cut down on red meat and whole fat milk as research shows that vegetarians are about fifty percent less likely to develop cancer than those who eat meat. That is because meat and milk lack fiber, antioxidants and nutrients that have cancer protective properties and is high on saturated fat which is linked with increased risk of cancer. But you don’t need to eliminate meat completely. A good visual reminder is to have 2/3rd of your plate filled with plant foods and 1/3rd of it with meat and dairy products. You can cut them down by cutting animal products to a palm-size, adding some salads or beans to it rather than using it as the main element. Choose fish or lean chicken as they are low on fat, avoid processed meats like sausages, salamis etc.
5. Choose your fats smartly. Saturated and trans fats are demons for health, so limit them. Saturated fats (bad fats) are found in butter, ghee, eggs, whole fat milk and red meats and trans fats are found in processed and junk foods like burgers, pizzas etc. On the other hand unsaturated fats (good fats) like MUFA and PUFA are found in oils that are liquid at room temperature eg: olive oil, ricebran oil, etc. The other sources of unsaturated fats are avocados, nuts like walnuts, almonds etc. Also focus on omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include fish like salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds. You can add them by eating fish once or twice a week, adding flaxseeds to your salad, avoiding fried foods, checking the label for bad fats.
6. Opt for cancer-fighting foods. You immune system needs to be strong to fight against cancer causing agents. You need to eat a variety of colourful foods with antioxidants (vitamin A, C, E and selenium) and phytochemicals that help strengthen immunity and fight diseases. Such foods are tomatoes, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, grapes, cranberry, carrots, cabbage, garlic, onions, grapefruits, blueberries, chilli peppers, jalapeno, soy products like tofu etc. Green tea is also antioxidant rich, so replace your black tea with three cups of green tea per day.
7. Drink plenty of water as it helps to eliminate toxins from the body and supply nutrients to the cancer cells which can kill and prevent them from multiplying. Avoid sugary drinks like colas, juices etc as they increase inflammation and cancer growth.
8. Preserve nutrients when you cook. Wash the vegetables and fruits with a brush to remove all pesticide residues. Eat raw as much as possible, this helps retain the nutrients. Steam the vegetables using very little water. Prevent over-heating of oil as it can become carcinogenic.
9. Instead of deep-frying, pan-frying, and sautéing, opt for healthier methods such as baking, boiling, steaming, or broiling. Store oils in a cool dark place to prevent it from becoming rancid. Use microwave friendly containers of good quality to prevent plastic material interaction with food.
10. Avoid foods that look or smell mouldy, as they are likely to contain aflatoxin, a strong carcinogen. Nuts will stay fresh longer if kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
About the author
Neha Chandna is a well-known dietician and nutritionist. She is also a certified Reebok Aerobics instructor and was a university topper in Dietetics from SVT. In the last three years, she has worked as a nutritionist for gyms and various fitness trainers and is also a consultant for doctors and physiotherapists. She deals helps various people with their nutrition needs – sportsmen, obese people, diabetics, etc. She also helps those suffering from diseases like thyroid, osteoporosis, PCOS, etc. She also holds workshops and seminars for corporates like HDFC, Standard Chartered Bank and other organisations including BPOs and MNCs. She also writes for magazines like New Woman, Beauty and Salon, etc.