Cancer preventing fruits

Tasty Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

There are dozens of ways we can reduce our risk of cancer. Some are difficult; some are easy. Quitting smoking will reduce one’s risk of lung cancer, just as minimizing long term exposure to the sun will reduce the chances of cancerous skin conditions. For most Americans, the first is a challenge and the second one is relatively simple.

Both involve behavioral changes. But what about our habits when it comes to food?

Numerous major medical studies over recent decades have also shown a strong link between diet and cancer risk. The evidence is powerful: the better we eat, the more we reduce our risk of certain cancers, especially those which affect the digestive pathway. Stomach cancer, colon cancer and even liver cancer have all been shown to have lower frequency among people who have diets which include less red meat, a greater intake of high fiber, and more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Doctors have long preached the message of better eating, but the newest research solidifies what our instincts have told us: fresh fruits and veggies play a powerful role in our health.

One important compound the body needs to fight cancer are antioxidants, frontline troops that fight what are known as “free radicals,” a substance which encourages oxidation (a kind of cellular breakdown not unlike the process in which rust which can affects metal). Antioxidants attack free radicals, and in turn reduce this body’s cellular breakdown.

The good news is that antioxidants—which include Vitamins A and C—can be found in hundreds of fresh foods. Among those tasty items rich in these Vitamins are strawberries, blueberries, most citrus fruits, tomatoes and squash.

Blueberries are at the top of the list of common fruits. A single serving of blueberries—cultivated, farm grown or wild—at roughly ½ cup, contains almost all the antioxidant intake the average human might need, though many doctors suggest that it depends upon how the body processes the contents.

Other foods near the top of the list include some in the legume family: kidney beans, red beans, pinto beans—all of which have the added benefit of high fiber content. Among fruits which can be eaten chilled or raw (those high on the list of antioxidant content): strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, prunes and several common types of apples. Most of these are loaded with soluble fiber, and several are packed with Vitamin C. Add to this list russet potatoes, red potatoes, black beans and plums, and you have a surprisingly versatile roster of great foods to choose from to boost your body’s potential to fight cancer.

Folic acid is another way to bolster your body’s resistance to cancer. Recent studies have shown a strong link between people with diets high in folic acid and reduced rates of cancer, and folic acid can be found commonly in leafy green vegetables—spinach, kale, dark lettuce, turnip greens—as well as in nuts and citrus fruit, especially oranges, grapefruit and lemons. In addition to folic acid, there is the emerging data on phytochemicals—a category of substances which includes flavonoids and phenols—substances found in especially high quantity in broccoli, cabbage, squash, tomatoes, and most citrus and berries. Phytochemicals are believed by many doctors to play a vital role in the body’s resistance to cancer.

Eliminating foods with trans fats and high levels of bad cholesterol are an important step toward reducing your risk of stomach and colon cancer. For many people, this would seem to be a major challenge—after all, almost all fast food and most traditional snack foods are loaded with trans fats (there are exceptions to this, so read the labels and check the health facts about hamburgers, hots dogs, French fries, chicken nuggets, breakfast burritos and other common fast foods). Also, many pre-packaged foods and processed meats, like hot dogs and lunch meat, contain heavy amounts of trans fats.

But in truth it is not difficult to substitute that bag of chips or that package of cheese crackers with a zip-lock bag of blackberries, baby carrots or blueberries. And instead of a trip to the drive-through for a cheeseburger and fries or a bag of tacos, why not pack a simple lunch of tuna salad on wheat bread, with a handful of grapes and an apple on the side? The result would be more filling and certainly more beneficial to your body’s digestive system, not to mention your immune system.

And that brings us to tuna. Reducing or eliminating processed meats and especially red meat is another important step in reducing one’s risk of cancers. Several major medical studies have shown that a diet which includes tuna, salmon, sardines and certain other types of fish, may have a measurable impact on your risk of cancer—and not just internal cancers. Salmon, sardines and tuna are loaded with Vitamin D. Though further research is needed, some preliminary studies show strong evidence that Vitamin D may be instrumental in reducing risk of prostate and breast cancer.

Finally there is the always important lesson of fiber. Some studies indicate that people with high fiber diets may be at lower risk of colon cancer, and though the research is still inconclusive, some doctors believe that high fiber foods—because they are able to move materials through the digestive tract faster and more completely—reduce the amount of time that toxins with the potential for cancer causing spend in the body. Most fresh fruits and veggies fall into the broad category of high fiber, as does whole wheat bread, brown rice and many breakfast cereals. Green beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans and most berries (especially blueberries and blackberries) are also good sources of fiber.

Though medical science is far from producing a comprehensive nutrition plan for people to avoid the risk of cancer altogether, a few simple diet changes can make a huge difference—and it doesn’t have to taste bad. In fact, it can be quite delicious.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Health Magic of Berries ; Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review.

The Health Benefits of Beans ; Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review.