Cancer is one of the top causes of death in North America, and while certainly there are factors beyond our control, such as genetics, there is a lot we can do on our end towards prevention. Lifestyle is a major variable that can cause or help prevent your chances of getting cancer. Let’s look at our dietary choices, and how nutrition can help provide us with antioxidants and other cancer-fighting agents.
Antioxidants are a chemical that is produced by our bodies to help repair and protect tissues. Our body cells and tissues are continually regenerating as part of natural body processes and metabolism. The natural oxidation that occurs in our body is related to cancer risk due to the production of free radicals that can cause cell damage. Antioxidants can minimize or stop the harmful effects of free radicals, and are vital for cancer prevention. Antioxidants contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and phytochemicals, which are also found in plants.
While our bodies do create antioxidants, consuming them in whole foods and having higher antioxidant levels in our bodies are definitely helpful for preventing cancer.
Start your day with berries, which are both tasty and rich with antioxidants that can prevent cancer growth or spreading.
Carrots contain carotenoids, which are an antioxidant that can help protect against rectal cancer. Other colorful vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, and kale are also good sources of carotenoids.
Men, especially those with history of or at risk for prostate cancer, would be wise to add more cooked tomatoes to their meals. Tomatoes have lycopene, another carotenoid.
Pick up a garlic press to more easily add garlic to your food. Just one garlic clove per day can minimize your risk of breast, stomach and colon cancer.
Sip green tea daily for the catechins that have been found to minimize tumor size and further growth. Premium loose leaf green teas will have more health benefits than the boxed brands in the supermarket.
Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta are all a great source of fiber and antioxidants that help protect you from colon cancer.
An anti-cancer treat you can have on occasion is red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol from the red grape skin. Enjoy red grapes as snacks for the alcohol-free version.
Beans, especially pinto and red kidney beans, are a nutritious source of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Add them to tomato-based soups or brown rice bowls for a healthy meal.
Now that we’ve covered foods to eat more of for anti-cancer nutrition, keep in mind you can also lower your chances of the disease by minimizing your intake of certain foods as well. Some food items to avoid for better cancer-fighting nutrition include
Red and processed meats are associated with higher likelihood of colon, bladder, breast, lung and other cancers. Red meat has higher amounts of saturated and trans fat as well as toxic nitrogenous compounds.
Dairy products like cheese, milk and eggs are not needed in your diet except minimally. The ways that dairy products are produced can lead to hormone-related cancers.
High consumption of white flour and simple sugars such as white sugar can lead to higher chances of colon cancer. Diets that are made up of higher portions of simple carbs and sugar provide less nutrition and can slow down metabolic processes.
While it is not a food, avoiding tobacco will make a big difference in preventing cancer, since a third of cancer-related deaths in the US are caused by tobacco use.
Focus on including foods from the first list and decreasing foods from the second list, and you’ll be intentionally eating an anti-cancer diet. Again, following the health principles of clean eating and prioritizing vegetables set a great foundation to minimize cancer as well as other health problems. We choose what we eat three times a day, so we may as well choose foods that will maintain and protect our bodies, especially for those of us with any history of cancer in our families. Lift your glass of red wine (or forkful of veggies) and cheers to taking good care of our nutritional health.
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