Opinion: Dr Manjari Chandra
The link between diet and cancer
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

We all know that prevention is better than cure. So it only makes sense to apply this to our daily practice towards a healthier life and disease prevention. It is common knowledge that certain foods put us at risk for problems like heart disease and diabetes, but what about cancer—one of the biggest killers today? Sure, it is true that cancer is caused due to a variety of factors like environmental toxins, chronic stress and most of all, genetics, but the food we eat has a major impact on how our bodies gain and utilize nutrients, as well as how well our immune systems function. A healthy immune system from a diet rich in antioxidants and essential vitamins and fibers will kill off cell mutations and free radicals—the main culprits in cancer. Out of the array of cancer-causing factors, food is the only one we have direct and conscious control over, making it imperative to make healthier choices for our own health, as well as that of our loved ones. Here’s a look at what foods may cause cancer, as well as those that can help keep the disease at bay.

The sweetest killer of them all

Sugar is known as one of the biggest triggers of cancer in the human body. Added sugar, artificial sweeteners and so-called natural sweeteners (like high fructose corn syrup) spike insulin levels, create stored fat deposits, and encourage the growth of tumours and cause them to proliferate or metastasise (multiplication of mutated cancer cells). Keep your sugar intake to a minimum, and choose to eat dates, fruits, organic honey, or dark chocolate to satisfy sugar craving instead of binging on a box of donuts or sugary candy.

M-eat wisely

Processed, canned, tinned and packaged meat need to be out of your refrigerator (and your life) for good. Curing and cooking meats to last long on the shelf may provide an easy snack and source of protein, but the high temperatures and sodium levels (not to mention preservatives, additives and chemicals) used to make this possible essentially convert a healthy protein source into a festering chunk of potential diseases. Besides causing stomach and colorectal cancer thanks to sky high levels of salt and unhealthy carcinogenic fat molecules, it also puts you at risk for increased cholesterol levels, which is bad for your heart and arteries in the long run.

Farmed animals and their products are loaded with the hormones and antibiotics that are injected into the animal to make it grow rapidly, protect it from diseases or produce milk. These elements make their way into the meat you cook or the milk you drink. Therefore it is important to consume organically-fed meat, chicken, eggs and organic milk where possible.

Crave the crunch

Your mom always forced you to eat your vegetables, and with good reason. Green, leafy vegetables are high in fiber (helping to eliminate waste and toxins from your gut), vitamins like vitamin C and A that prevent the formation and growth of cancerous tumours, and antioxidants as well as toxin-busting enzymes that purify your blood. What’s more, they help you maintain a healthy weight and keep excess fat at bay. Crunchy (also known as cruciferous) veggies like cabbage and broccoli are especially good for cancer prevention. Make sure to grab these, as well as spinach, kale, salad leaves and other healthy vegetables like carrots (high in vitamin A), beetroot, celery and asparagus the next time you’re at your local farmer’s market. It’s easy to add these into your diet as well—as easy as grabbing a handful and adding it into your soup or salad, or giving it some flavor through a quick sauté or stir-fry.

Eat the rainbow

When you’re not sure if you’re eating healthy enough, take a look at your plate—does it contain differently coloured foods? A balanced diet will include greens and brightly coloured fruit besides your staple carbohydrates and homecooked vegetables containing turmeric (known for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties), ginger and garlic (with immunity-boosting effects). Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit are high in fiber and vitamic C, besides being delicious to eat. Other orange foods like pumpkin and squash are high in carotenoids, which is excellent for the immune system. Seasonal berries like goji berries, strawberries and fruits like kiwi are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, sweet potato and quinoa have a lower glycemic index and give you a constant supply of energy as compared to quick-release refined carbs like white rice and white bread.

You are what you drink

If you’re eating healthy, but chugging a can of soda with each meal, your health gains are neutralised. It’s important to realise that aerated drinks contain sugar, artificial sweeteners and preservatives that add to the threat of cancer, besides adding empty calories to your food intake. Stop the habit now, and drink green juice instead. Juicing is a great way to fill yourself up while also gaining the full nutritional benefits of the ingredients. Vegetable juice (with some additional berries for sweetness, or organic protein powder for muscle building) makes it easy to digest the nutrients from your veggies as compared to eating them raw. Teas like jasmine, chamomile and green tea are good for digestion, dissolving fat and breaking down free radicals thanks to their antioxidant properties. 

Once you incorporate these changes into your diet, eating healthy will become second nature. When in doubt (or if you’re hit by a craving), just remember—health is wealth.

--The writer is an onco-nutritionist, ICD Healthcare. Views expressed are personal


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