Following an anti cancer diet is growing all the more important as cancer continues to be one of the major causes of early deaths across the world. Research shows that cancer cells can be stopped in their tracks by adopting the right type of lifestyle.
Hundreds of scientific studies have shown that an inactive lifestyle, smoking, drinking, poor diet and going out unprotected in the sun can all increase the chances of developing cancer. This means that you have a significant amount of control over the likelihood of developing the disease.
In this article we offer some essential advice about your diet; and the impact it can have on reducing your risk of developing cancer.
The Importance of an Anti Cancer Diet
Eating the right anti-cancer diet has a huge role to play in combating cancer. Without being aware of it you may be eating unhealthy foods that actually increase your chances of developing the disease. Similarly there are a number of other “anti-cancer foods” that have been shown to offer some protection.
Even small changes in your diet can have a dramatic impact on your overall health and reduce your risk of getting cancer. Those already suffering from cancer can also achieve significant additional benefits from adopting a healthy diet alongside their medical treatment.
Vast sums of money are spent each year on researching cancer treatment, and treating cancer patients. However governments and health organizations across the world continue to advocate that prevention is far better than cure. This means that the focus on a healthy, anti-cancer diet is growing.
In recent years science has allowed us to understand far more about the composition of our diets. This means that specific foods have now been highlighted for their cancer fighting properties, others for the dangers that they present. This means that managing cancer is no longer just a case of receiving medical treatment; it has become far more about a wider diet and lifestyle choice.
Meat – Understanding the Risks
The link between the consumption of red or processed meat and higher instances of cancer are well established through various scientific studies. These types of meat contain significant amounts of harmful, saturated and trans fats. This means that essentially the higher the amount of red meat in your diet the greater your risk of cancer – particularly bowel and colon cancer.
Even without these high levels of “bad” fats, red meat also contains other chemicals with clear links to cancer. This includes dangerous proteins and toxic nitrogen based compounds. In addition when meat is cooked at high temperatures chemicals known as heterocyclic amines can be formed which have carcinogenic properties. These chemicals can be found in barbecued meats in particular.
Eating virtually any animal product too frequently can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer. These foods contain little or no fiber and so remain in the digestive system for longer meaning that the body has a greater exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. Reducing your intake of red meats means that your body is able to get more of its nutrition from healthier plant based sources.
As well as red meat, the regular consumption of eggs and chicken skin have also been linked to higher cancer rates. Similarly in some studies an increased amount of fish in the diet has been linked to breast cancer in women. However it is important to put these risks in perspective and understand that in moderation these foods offer various health benefits.
Essentially the message is to reduce your intake of red and processed meat as far as possible. If you still want a small amount of red meat in your diet then always go for the healthier cooking options such as roasting rather than frying or barbecuing.
Dairy – Understanding the Risks
As with red meat, dairy is of course an animal product. As such it inherently carries some of the same risks when it comes to cancer rates. The consumption of dairy products such as cheese has increased massively over the last few decades as our diet has grown unhealthier.
Rather than it necessarily being the fat that dairy products contain, the higher risk is more likely to be associated with dairy protein. This means that reduced fat milk, for example, can still carry the same cancer risks as the full fat version. Indeed some research has suggested that the specific consumption of low fat milk can increase your cancer risk.
Milk contains a number of chemicals that help stimulate growth which is beneficial to the body in many ways. However these chemicals also stimulate the growth of harmful cancer cells. Studies have highlighted a significant link between these chemicals and a higher risk of prostate cancer in particular. However bladder and ovarian cancer also show strong associations with dairy consumption.
As with many foods the key to consuming dairy is to opt for moderation. There are some nutritional benefits to consuming these products but monitoring your intake is likely to limit your cancer risks.
Sugar and White Flour – Understanding the Risks
Sugar and processed (white) flour contain a combination of glucose, triglycerides and insulin. These chemicals have a direct link to diabetes. However there are clear similarities between the risk factors for diabetes and certain cancers. In short higher levels of glucose in the system can result in higher rates of cancers.
Some of these links are due to the higher levels of obesity associated with significant glucose and simple carbohydrate intakes. Being overweight increases your chances of developing cancer so the correlation is fairly clear. More specifically, processed flour is a “readily assimilated carbohydrate” which has been found to act as a carcinogen in the digestive tract.
Processed carbohydrates and sugar give us a significant number of calories but with a very limited amount of genuine nutrition. These are what might be called empty calories and as such they use up the space that should be used for essential vitamins and minerals that can actually help fight cancer.
Wholegrain foods and unprocessed/ complex carbohydrates are far more beneficial to your body. This means that reducing your sugar intake and removing white flour from your diet can help to reduce your chances of developing cancer in the future.
The Importance of Unrefined Plant Based Foods
Avoiding certain foods can help significantly in reducing your chances of developing cancer. However it is equally important that you also include specific foods in your diet to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals.
One of the most important food groups is fruit and vegetables. Across the Western world very few people have anywhere near enough of these in their diets. The recommendation is that around ninety percent of your calories should come from plant material. Ideally this should be a range of types and colors and in their raw form where possible.
This equates to around two pounds of vegetables and four or five pieces of fruit each day. For the maximum protection against cancer this should include a combination of greens, berries, lentils and seeds.
Particularly beneficial to an anti-cancer diet are the cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cabbage contain chemicals known as glucosinolates. These are used by the body in various ways to help fight cancer. This includes inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, reducing the damage caused by cancer and also the removing carcinogens from the body.
Put simply, those people who have a varied diet rich in plant materials have much less risk of cancer. This can be as much as sixty percent lower in some cases.
Some vegetables have been shown to be more beneficial than others. Mushrooms for example have direct links to reducing the rates of breast cancer; one serving of cabbage per week has been shown to massively reduce rates of pancreatic cancer, eating more broccoli and Brussels sprouts may lower the risk of lung cancer and the list goes on.
Plant materials have huge benefits to your overall health. Those who switch to a mainly plant based diet experience healthy weight loss as well as better mental clarity and emotional wellbeing. Therefor fruits, vegetables, and herbs should be the cornerstone of any diet.
The Importance of Vitamin D
Like many nutrients, vitamin D is an essential part of a healthy body. More importantly though, vitamin D has been shown to have a key role in fighting cancer. For example, studies over the last few years have shown a correlation between high levels of vitamin D and the risk of breast cancer being reduced by up to forty-five percent. The risk of colorectal cancer is also reduced with a higher level of the vitamin. Not only are risks of developing cancer reduced but vitamin D can also increase survival rates.
Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common in the developed world. Because vitamin D is primarily obtained from exposure to sunlight the obvious advice would be to get more sunshine. However the potential for over exposure to the sun and the increased risk of skin cancer means that this advice is not necessarily appropriate. Instead you may want to look at increasing the amount of vitamin D you obtain through food sources such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel etc.), cod liver oil, (portabello) mushrooms or tofu. Alternatively you may wish to take supplements or eat food fortified with vitamin D, such as cereals and fruit juices which are now available on the market.
As well as vitamin D your diet may also incorporate other vitamin and mineral supplements. While many of these can be beneficial to your overall health; others have been shown to actually have a negative impact.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and has been advocated as an excellent supplement for pregnant women as it contributes towards fetal development. However folic acid has inherent risks. Its contribution towards cell growth means that it can actually encourage cancer cells to develop and spread. Taking folic acid in the form of supplements has been associated with increased incidences of breast and colorectal cancers.
There is little need to take folic acid supplements as part of your regular routine; you can get a healthy dose by eating plenty of green vegetables. You should be aware though that if you currently take a conventional multivitamin it is likely that you are already taking folic acid in this form.
Beta-carotene is another supplement to be cautious about. Previously thought to help with reductions in cancer rates, some studies have actually linked it to higher rates of the disease. Beta-carotene is far better in its natural form from fruits and vegetables (such as carrots and beets) which also contain a whole host of other helpful vitamins and minerals.
Genetic modification, pesticides and the risk of cancer
The science of genetic modification (GM) can be controversial. Genetically modified foods are those which have been altered artificially in order to, amongst other things, improve their resistance to disease. These are changes which could not be achieved through natural processes or hybridization.
Government agencies and private companies in the GM sector have told the public that these foods are completely safe. However campaigners against the industry have pointed out that these assurances are largely based on short-term testing and the longer-term effects are yet to be established. The links between GM food and cancer have only been studied in animals; but some of these studies have demonstrated that eating GM food can increase the chance of developing cancer.
The use of artificial pesticides on crops is another area that has also been linked to some cancers. The introduction of GM foods has actually seen an increase in the use of some pesticides. Even the limited use of pesticides on food has been shown to increase the risk of brain tumors, breast cancer and leukemia.
If you feel unsure about eating food that has been treated with pesticides or that has been genetically modified then there is now plenty of choice in locally grown, organic produce as an alternative.
Well known anti-cancer & cancer curing diets
Combating cancer is becoming more and more about lifestyle choices as well as medical treatment. There are a number of well known diets available that claim to help prevent cancer. Others claim to be able to help sufferers actually fight the disease after diagnosis. Here are just some of the more established diets available to you.
This diet is based on the notion that cells in the human body rely on glucose for fuel. Cells which are not able to access enough glucose switch to using something called ketone bodies instead. However cancer cells are not able to make this switch due to a natural defect in their biology and so survive solely on glucose in the body.
The ketogenic diet exploits this and so sharply limits your intake of carbohydrates (glucose) and instead focuses on naturally occurring proteins and fats. It is not a complicated diet; it just means eating cleanly and staying away from processed meats, margarines and trans fats. Instead you should go for the natural protein in meat, poultry and fish; along with healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts.
The Budwig diet or Budwig protocol is a very specific approach developed by a German biochemist in the 1950s. There is no reliable evidence showing a direct link between the diet and the successful treatment of cancer; however it is still popular amongst those diagnosed with the disease to supplement conventional treatment.
The basis of the diet means avoiding meat, sugar and most fats and replacing them with plenty of fruit and vegetables along with high levels of fiber rich foods. This healthy diet is then supplemented by regularly eating ground linseed (the source of flaxseed oil) mixed in with cottage cheese or milk.
Raw Plant Based Diet
Various studies have shown that having a plant based low-fat diet, is one of the most effective ways of preventing cancer from developing. Animal based food such as meat and dairy has been linked with cancer and numerous other serious diseases. The natural solution then is to ensure these foods are removed from our diets.
Virtually all humans have a propensity for cancer cells to develop in their bodies at some time in their lives. Cancer cells “pop up” regularly and it is how the body copes with these cells that determines whether or not it develops into full blown cancer. A plant based diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruit and beans or lentils means that your body is full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber to combat the cancer cells straightaway. Eating food in their raw state means that none of the nutrients are lost in the cooking process.
Just like the “raw plant-based diet”; juice fasting relies on using raw vegetables to ensure the body is full of essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals to combat cancer cells.
Alongside conventional medicines, cancer patients using this method go through periods of up to four or five weeks (although it can be less) where they eat nothing but vegetable juices and drink just water. This can be supplemented with some food such as raw cabbage, broccoli and carrots. However ideally it should include a range of vegetable juices to ensure an effective mix of vitamins.
A variation on this diet involves entirely replacing the vegetable juices with just grapes and grape juices.
Diet Tips to Help Prevent Cancer
Focus on fruits and vegetables & herbs
Fruit and vegetables have fantastic cancer preventing properties. However, very few of us get enough of these brilliant natural sources of vitamins in our diets. Carotenoids, selenium, beta-carotene, vitamin C & E are all antioxidants which help keep free radicals at bay, and can be found in abundance in a plant based diet. These nutrients, along with others found in vegetables, have been shown to reduce the risk of developing virtually all types of cancer.
It is best to go for a range of colors and varieties of vegetables to ensure that you are getting a broad range of nutrients. Non-starchy vegetables are a better option so try swapping sweet potatoes in place of regular potatoes.
Raw vegetables are the best option – the cooking process can remove many of the nutrients. Similarly whole fruits are invariably better than their juiced alternatives for the same reason. It’s a good idea to have good portion of green leafy vegetables and green herbs on a daily basis.
Another simple thing you can do to boost the amount of antioxidants you get, is drink green tea. Green tea and white tea are loaded with cancer fighting antioxidants and can be a great start to the day. Add some honey if you like it sweet.
Put simply plant based foods are known to be the best cancer-fighting foods, so focusing on getting more into your diet is a great way of reducing your chances of developing cancer.
Increase your intake of fiber
Fiber forms a key part of any cancer fighting diet. Plenty of fiber means that food moves through your digestive tract smoothly and effectively. This means nutrients are absorbed quickly and the waste products are flushed out before they can cause problems.
As well as plenty of vitamins, a plant based diet contains naturally high levels of fiber. If plenty of fruit and vegetables are combined with whole grains, beans and lentils then you stand a much better chance of avoiding stomach, bowel and colorectal cancer.
As well as avoiding processed grains (such as white rice, bread and pasta) to increase your intake of fiber, try to get plenty of water in to your diet too. This will help further encourage you system to flush out toxins.
Eat less red and processed meat
Numerous studies have demonstrated a clear link between cancer and a diet that is high in red and/ or processed meat. Firstly this is because, apart from protein, red meat tends to lack any other beneficial nutrients. Secondly red meat is usually high in saturated fat which is linked to various health conditions including cancer and obesity.
Processed meat in particular presents even higher cancer risks when consumed regularly. This is due in part to the high levels of nitrates which are used as preservatives and flavorings during their preparation. This higher risk means that experts suggest you should try to avoid foods such as salami, pepperoni, bacon and sausages as far as possible.
Becoming a vegetarian may be an option for some; however you may want to just limit your portion size when eating meat or opt for fish or poultry instead.
Opt for healthy fats
A diet containing high levels of fat dramatically increases your chances of developing cancer as well as numerous other life-limiting conditions such as diabetes and obesity. However a diet with no fat can be equally unhealthy.
The best approach is to have a diet high in “good” unsaturated fats, found in olive oil and nuts, along with omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish. It is equally important to avoid “bad” saturated fats which are found in fried foods, vegetable oils and fast foods. Some natural saturated fats such as those found in milk and cheese aren’t necessarily harmful as long as these are eaten in moderation.
Use healthy methods to prepare your food
A cancer preventing diet not only requires you to eat the right types of food. It is equally important to think about the way in which you prepare and cook your meals.
Raw natural plant based foods often present the best health benefits and so their preparation is fairly straightforward. When cooking vegetables, steam them quickly, using just a small amount of water. Overcooking them will result in many of the nutrients being lost.
Some methods of cooking can actually create carcinogens. Frying on a high heat and barbecuing can both lead to cancer causing chemicals being formed within your food. Instead opt for baking, boiling and steaming.
It is also important to store your food appropriately to avoid it going off and developing carcinogens. Make sure that you dispose of food that looks or smells moldy rather than feeling you should use it up.