Can a Healthy Diet and a Healthy Lifestyle Reduce Cancer?
As part of the Ovar'coming Together Education Series, Dr. Cynthia
Thomson, a registered dietitian and cancer nutrition expert from the
Arizona Cancer Center, has traveled to Indiana twice in the past three
years to speak with women affected by ovarian cancer about what
they can do to reduce their risk of cancer recurrence. Dr. Thomson
also discussed ways to use a healthy diet to improve outcomes
during cancer treatment.
A few of the highlights from her presentations are shared below as a result of an interview conducted on one of her trips to Indiana. This article answers a few questions about a healthy diet and cancer risk.
What exactly do you mean by a healthy diet? Everyone seems to have a different idea of what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘unhealthy.’
A healthy diet has been defined by many nutrition experts and organizations across the country, such as the American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research and others. In general, a healthy diet is one that incorporates a wide variety of healthy foods. Food selections should mostly include plants (vegetables and fruits). A healthy diet also should incorporate whole grains (not refined flour or processed grains, look for whole grain foods). A healthy diet is one that also limits fat intake, ideally less than 30% of all your calories from foods should be from fat. Be sure to read the nutrition label on foods. There should not be more than 3 grams of fat per 100 calories. It is especially important to avoid saturated fats and instead eat more monounsaturated fats such as olive or nut oils. Charbroiled, smoked and blackened foods should also be avoided as much as possible, as the intense heating process chemically alters foods. If you really love your barbequed foods, you can always precook indoors then just give it a few minutes on the grill to get that same outdoor grilled flavor. But a healthy diet is more than just food, it is also maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active. It is not necessary to do strenuous exercise to get a benefit; walking a little each day can improve health. Your goal should be 30 or more minutes of activity every day.
What do you mean by having a 'plant-based diet'?
Plant-based diets refer to anything we eat that is grown from the ground, rather than things that come from an animal. There are some really terrific plant foods that are very important to include in a healthy diet, especially for those who have been diagnosed with, or who are at risk of, cancer. Dark green vegetables are rich in a number of important nutrients, including folate, vitamin C and calcium. To be considered a dark green vegetable they must be a rich green color representing the depth of nutrients (such as spinach, green beans, kale and bok choi). Iceberg lettuce is not a dark green leafy vegetable, and does not add those key nutrients that darker green lettuces, such as romaine or red and green leaf lettuce. Another category of vegetables that are important to include in your regular diet are cruciferous vegetables. One way to think of these is to think of them as the "gas forming" vegetables that release a distinct, strong odor when cooked. These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Orange and yellow vegetables also provide important nutrients and health chemicals to fight cancer. Citrus fruits are also important. Incorporating at least one serving of oranges, tangerines, limes, tangelos, lemons, clementines, kumquats, or grapefruit into your daily diet will give your body an important dose of Vitamin C. To get all the vegetables and fruit you need start your shopping trip in the produce department and fill at least 25% of your cart with these foods - eyeing your purchase to see a wide variety colors!
We have heard in the media that certain foods, such as berries, are really effective to ward off cancer. What are those foods that are really important to eat after a diagnosis of cancer?
The best thing is not to focus on any one food, but to eat a varied diet to be sure your body is getting many different nutrients in different forms. That said, there are definitely some fruits and vegetables that are better for you than others. Focus on the green leafy vegetables rather than the light-colored ones. Incorporate whole grains (try to have at least 30 grams of fiber in your diet each day) and try to reduce your intake of fat to less than 30% of your daily calorie intake. Avoid processed foods. But in addition to foods, many spices also have the ability to improve our body's immune system and other functions, such as components of green tea, curcumin, turmeric, rosemary, garlic, mustard, onion and oregano. They all add to your health. You can give your body a little extra boost by cooking foods with spices that have known health benefits. A diet that incorporates these ingredients as well a wide range of plant-based foods, not just one food, will give the body its best chance to fight against cancer.