5 Cancer Fighting Foods Plus what to avoid
The most basic, but often overlooked thing we can do to help reduce cancer risk, is simply to avoid eating too much. Being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk of many cancers. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight reduces this risk significantly—I recommend using BMI or body fat percentage as a gauge:
- Ideally, keep your BMI (a calculation based on height and weight that anyone can do) below 25-26; if you’re much above 26, you start to be at risk for cancer. As your BMI rises, your risk increases disproportionately; above 30, it’s quite dangerous, and above 35 even more. The good news, though, is that at high BMIs (over 30, for example) even a small change could lead to a major reduction in risk.
- Body fat percentage can be measured with any fitness trainer (it’s done using a special machine or scale), and while they may look at very low body fat percentage for ideal physical fitness and physique, anything below 30% for women and 25% for men will keep you in a very healthy range for cancer risk.
SALT AND PROCESSED FOODS
Processed and packaged foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, and poor-quality fats, all of which fall into the ‘increased risk of cancer’ category. Excess intake of salt, in particular, is associated with stomach cancer. Additives are safety tested on small animals, one animal and one compound at a time; since humans live much longer than these animals, and are often exposed to a combination of toxins, the tests reveal little about possible health effects on us. The best way to avoid them and decrease your risk is to cook at home with fresh ingredients.
- As an easy rule of thumb: Anything that’s designed to last a really long time is likely preserved with nitrates and salts. For those foods, keep serving sizes to a few times a week and leave a few days between servings to give your body processing time.
- Cheap packaged foods are often hiding cheap oils. An important marketing trick to keep an eye out for is packages that say “made with olive oil”—often, a close examination of the package reveals that the product is made with 65% corn oil and 2% olive oil.
- Make your food yourself. Natural foods contain all the salt you need nutritionally, so when you’re cooking at home, don’t add salt in the kitchen and instead leave some on the table for taste. That way, the salt lives on the surface of the food, and hits the tongue immediately, rather than getting lost in the recipe.
Excess consumption of sugar leads to obesity, which in turn increases cancer risk (see above), but sugar can also promote the growth of cancer, as cancer cells preferentially use glucose from sugar as an energy source. Insulin, which we produce in response to eating sugar, can promote the growth of cancer.
- Restrict eating sweets, candies, and anything with high-fructose corn syrup to once or twice a week, and avoid habitual sugar, like soda. This is especially important for kids.
- Try to reduce consumption of starchy carbohydrates like pasta and bread, which become sugar in your blood once they’ve been digested. Cancer cells prefer to use glucose as an energy source, so this is particularly important with early stage cancer, as you want to keep from feeding cancer cells their favourite food.
EXCESS OMEGA 6
This form of fat is pro-inflammatory, and since chronic inflammation of tissues can lead to cancer, is best avoided. Omega 6 primarily comes from corn and sunflower oil, so where-ever possible, replace those oils with cold pressed olive oil.
- Read packages carefully for corn and sunflower oil—they’re often hiding in salad dressings, or foods packed or canned with oils.
- Balance the effects of omega 6 oils in the diet by increasing omega 3 fat intake through eating fish or taking fish oil supplements. I recommend fish oil for most people, but it’s important to have a high-quality product—look for high EPA content (at least 700 mg per capsule) and high DHA content (at least 500 mg per capsule). Just remember to stop taking it a few days before you have any kind of planned surgery, as it can make the blood run thin.
This is a big subject, so to keep things simple, I like to think of red meat vs. all other meats. Red meat (which includes lamb, beef, and pork) has bad press with respect to cancer, particularly colon cancer, but the story is complicated. While it’s true that studies suggest red meat consumption is correlated with increased risk of colon cancer, it is also true that if you exclude processed red meat (pies, packaged foods, cured and smoked meats including bacon and ham) and only consider quality cuts of beef, pork, and lamb, the risk is much smaller. If you go further and select meat from grass-fed, organic sources which you prepare yourself, the risk is even lower.
- Choose organic, free-range poultry and fish or vegetable-based proteins most often.
- Keep red meat consumption to twice weekly, and whenever possible, prepare it at home.
Interestingly, modest intakes of alcohol are associated with less disease overall than a zero alcohol intake. However, excess alcohol consumption has been linked to cancers all along the digestive tract starting at the mouth, and is probably best known for causing liver problems including liver cancer.
- Keep alcohol consumption to one or two drinks per day. The occasional 3-4 glasses is acceptable for a special occasion, but not on a regular basis.
- The liver detoxifies alcohol in the body, so give it a few days rest from alcohol on a regular basis to ensure you are not straining it.
- While most health professionals will say that it is purely the units of alcohol you drink that create risk, there is good evidence pointing to the fact that that wine, and red wine in particular, poses less risk than spirits or beers.