Diet and Cancer

Cancer is a genetic disease caused by a mutation in the DNA. This mutation can be triggered by a range of factors; genetic inheritance, environmental factors, lifestyle choices and food preferences being the major contributors.

Diet plays the role of a double sword in cancer. It can feed cancer or kill cancer. Several foods are labeled as carcinogens (cancer causing substances) and several are hailed for having cancer-fighting properties.

Choosing proper dietary nutrition is very crucial not only for prevention of cancer but it is also important for management and treatment of cancer.

Here are a few things about diet and cancer that you must know.

Why diet matters so much?

We are what we eat!

Every cell of the body is made from the nutrients that we derive through food.

So, food plays a very important role in keeping us healthy and hale.

While the right food choices nourish our body, the wrong ones can wreak havoc. Faulty eating is the main reason for obesity, diabetes, and all kinds of gastro-intestinal troubles. Diet is also one of the major causatives of cancer.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally. And research suggests that about 30-50% of cancer deaths can be prevented just by making the right food choices. There is a growing body of evidence claiming that dietary habits can increase or decrease cancer risk.

Food can lower the cancer risk by:

  • regulating hormones
  • slowing cancer cell growth
  • preventing inflammation
  • curbing damage from free radicals

Food that flames your cancer risk

Scientists suspect that diet may play an elemental role in turning normal cells cancerous. It is the high consumption of certain food items cooked in certain ways that’s linked to increased cancer risk.

However, nutrition is a complex concept. It is not only what you eat, but how you produce, store, cook and eat that matters. Food produced in a healthy environment, stored in the right way (without processing), cooked in less oil and heat, and eaten in a peaceful calm manner is optimal for the body.

Here is a list of foods that researchers have marked as probable cancer causing!

  1. Sugar and Refined Carbs
    There are several studies probing on the association between sugar and cancer. Several studies found that a diet high in refined carbs, which causes high blood glucose and insulin increases the risk of colon cancer by 50%.
  2. Red meat and Processed Meat
    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has cited processed meat as a carcinogen. A large review of studies found that consumption of red meat or processed meat can increase colorectal cancer risk by 20-50%. Also, another study suggested regular consumption of red meat or processed meat is found to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
  3. Dairy Products
    Clinical studies claim that high consumption of dairy products can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Increased intake of dairy products like butter, cheese, or sweet desserts contributes to obesity which is a known cancer risk.
  4. Overcooked Food
    Research shows that certain foods when cooked at high temperatures, (grilling, frying, sautéing, barbequing) can produce harmful compounds in the body. Excess accumulation of these compounds can lead to inflammation which may play a role in the development of cancer. Foods like processed red meat, cheese, butter, oils and nuts should never be overcooked.

Foods that help cope with cancer

Several studies on the impact of diet in preventing and coping with cancer have revealed cancer-fighting properties in certain foods. Scientists revealed that eating an optimal healthy diet may reduce the cancer risk by 70%.

  1. Foods rich in anti-oxidants
    Any food rich in anti-oxidant is good for fighting and preventing cancer. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals and repairs the damages done by them. Anti-oxidants also boost immunity, energy, and overall well-being which is crucial while undergoing cancer treatment.
  2. Vegetables and Fruits
    Many vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that help in fighting cancer. Fruits and vegetables can play a preventive as well as a curative role in managing cancer.
    Studies suggest that a person’s daily diet must include at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables. Eating high amounts of fruit may lower the risk of stomach and lung cancer.
    Different vegetables too can lower the risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, larynx, stomach, and oesophageal cancer. Moringa, a superfood, is a proven anti-cancer food that is now studied in preparation for anti-cancer drugs.
  3. Seeds and Spices
    Several seeds and spices are also said to help fight cancer. Cinnamon has anti-cancer properties. Curcumin a compound found in turmeric is now used to treat cancer. Flaxseeds too have cancer-preventive properties; it is said to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
  4. Beans and Legumes
    Beans and legumes show protective properties against cancer. A study in 3500 people concluded that regular consumption of beans and legumes can lower the risk of certain types of cancer by 50%.
  5. Water and juice
    Drink lots of water and fluids throughout the day. It helps flush out toxins from the body, improves hydration and soothes symptoms caused by cancer. Drinking ample liquids also keeps the body energized and fresh.

Apart from these nuts, fish, garlic, olive oil and healthy eating habits are considered important for fighting cancer. It is not one single food but the overall diet that makes the big difference. Also, it is always best to extract the nutrients directly from foods rather than taking supplements.

Fruits and vegetables you must add to your diet

Vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, and squash contain carotenoids may reduce the risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, may help protect against stomach and esophageal cancer.

Oranges, berries, peas, bell peppers, dark leafy greens and other foods high in vitamin C may help prevent esophageal cancer. Tomatoes, guava, and watermelon contain lycopene such as tomatoes which may lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Food, Blood Sugar and Cancer

Certain foods are identified to spike up the blood sugar levels. And high blood sugar is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer including cancers of the stomach, breast and colorectal.

People with high blood sugar have 22% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Insulin stimulates the growth of cancerous cells and speeds up its spread. High blood glucose also leads to inflammation which can result in genetic mutations causing cancer.

Food, Obesity and Cancer

One of the biggest modern-day disaster is obesity. More people are dying of overeating than malnourishment. Obesity opens the door to several chronic conditions including stress, depression, diabetes, arthritis, cancer etc.

After smoking and drinking, obesity is the third biggest risk factor for cancer. Obesity is linked to 13 different types of cancer, including cancers of the oesophagus, colon, pancreas, breast and kidney.

Obesity impacts cancer risk in three key ways:

  • Excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance.
  • Obesity can cause chronic inflammation.
  • Fat cells contribute to increased estrogen levels.

Diet tips to curb cancer risks

  1. Do not cook oils on high heat.
  2. Opt for healthier cooking methods like baking, boiling, or steaming.
  3. Store oils in a cool dark place in airtight containers.
  4. Avoid foods that turned moldy. It might contain aflatoxin, a strong carcinogen.
  5. Avoid processed, fried, fast foods.
  6. Prefer boiled foods over raw or overcooked foods.
  7. Flavor your food with immune-boosting herbs and spices.

Diet and Cancer: Which is the best Cancer diet?

There are several fad diets that trend for some time and then fizz out. Alkaline diet, Ketogenic diet, vegetarian diet, vegan diet, Palaeolithic diet are some names that are linked to cancer prevention.

It is shown in several studies that plant-based diet may lower the risk of cancer, but again, it is the overall healthy eating practice that matters. Eating a plant-based diet and binging on fried and salts foods won’t help!

There is no food that can assure the prevention of cancer, neither there is enough evidence to cite one as a certain causative. To date, observational studies have linked some foods to increase cancer risks and some to lower cancer risks. But further studies and research is needed to better understand the role of food choices in cancer.

However, it’s the simple practice of eating healthy foods in a regulated manner that works best. Food choice should be a personal decision. However, abstaining or controlling foods that cause damage while adding the healthy alternatives is the best way to fight cancer.