While the cause of cancer is still mostly a dark mystery, study after study indicates that diet plays a powerful role. In fact, researchers say one third of all cancers are diet-related, which would make diet the second-leading cause of cancer after tobacco products.
What can you do to lower your cancer risk? A balanced, plant-based diet that is low in saturated fats and high in fresh fruits and vegetables,the kind of diet you know you should be following for good health in the first place, is your best bet. Here’s why.
A high-fat diet triggers the body to produce estrogen and testosterone, too much of which can set the stage for breast or prostate cancer. Fat from red meat can increase the production of free radicals, which damage healthy cells and give cancer cells an edge. In addition, the body creates bile to digest red meat. Bile that sits in the intestines for too long converts into a compound that promotes tumor growth, raising the risk of colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s position is that too much fat, whatever the source, in a diet can contribute to obesity, which has been linked to an increased risk for several types of cancer, including breast, kidney, esophageal and endometrial.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of several types of cancer; the reasons why are probably multifold. One could be the antioxidant, free-radical-fighting benefits of vitamin C, beta carotene and other compounds found in many fruits and vegetables.
Researchers are looking into the role of phytochemicals, various compounds produced by plants. Some of the compounds seem to act as antioxidants and regulate hormones for the plants as well as the people who eat them. In addition to fruits and vegetables, soy foods, legumes and garlic are rich in phytochemicals. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choy, contain several of these compounds and are often recommended in the fight against cancer.
Finally, roll your eyes if you must, but fiber is a champ against cancer. A healthy amount of fiber will push bile and other potential carcinogens through the body, preventing them from attaching and becoming tumors. It will also push through estrogen and testosterone, keeping them from building up to dangerous levels. The National Cancer Institute recommends 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day to keep your risk down. Beans, prunes, whole grain bread and raw vegetables are a good source of fiber, and be sure to keep the skins on those apples.
Since so many pieces of the “healthy diet” puzzle are interlinked, you can’t shortcut with supplements or you’ll miss out on some of the benefits. A well-rounded diet is the only way to go.
But your body will thank you kindly, and your effort could save your life.