There’s no doubt that food affects how we feel, and eating right can contribute to a longer and healthier life. Where cancer is concerned—fighting it, recovering from it, or preventing it—diet can be an important part of your health strategy.
Many of the foods that help to prevent cancer can also help to beat the disease once it’s been diagnosed. A high-fiber and low-fat diet lessens the likelihood that cancer cells will multiply or spread by reducing the amount of estrogen circulating in the blood. Fiber also helps to move waste out of the body and may prevent colon cancer.
How do you get more fiber into your diet? At breakfast, serve yourself a bowl of old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal. Add some berries for even more fiber. For lunch, top a salad with beans. Or have a bean burrito or hummus and veggies. Dinner could be a vegetable stir-fry over brown rice, a chunky vegetable chili, or lentil curry. And for a fiber-rich snack, an apple or a pear can’t be beat.
While refined flours and sugars are not a good dietary choice for anyone, they are particularly detrimental for those battling cancer. These highly processed foods increase the levels of enzymes that produce inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory foods are a wiser choice. Reach for some almonds, for example, which are good blood sugar regulators and keep you feeling full.
Herbs and spices can help fight inflammation. They not only add zest and flavor to a dish but also contain cancer-fighting compounds. Research suggests that cardamom may protect against the growth of colon cancer cells. And, when consumed along with a cruciferous vegetable, turmeric (often found in curry powder) has been found to reduce prostate tumor growth as well as its ability to spread.
Food as Medicine
Keeping the immune system healthy is crucial in fighting cancer, as a strong immune system can recognize and eliminate cancerous cells before they take hold. To boost your immunity, consume foods rich in beta carotene (such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams), vitamin C (raw bell peppers, broccoli, guava, kiwi), and vitamin E (Brazil nuts, brown rice, barley). All of these foods help keep immune cells nourished. Zinc is also a good immunity booster, and foods rich in that mineral include breakfast cereals, tempeh, wheat germ, and chickpeas.
Lycopene-rich foods also pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Lycopene is the carotenoid that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruits their vibrant colors. Cooked tomato products work even better than raw, since the heating process releases lycopene from plant cells and increases the body’s ability to absorb it. A Harvard University study found that men who ate two servings of tomato sauce per week had 23 percent lower prostate cancer risk than the men who hardly ever consumed tomato products.
Supplement Your Health
It’s best to obtain your vitamins and minerals from good food. However, many Americans are lacking in key nutrients, some of which have been linked to cancer prevention. You may want to consider adding a multivitamin/mineral or other supplements to your daily regimen for optimal health and immune functioning. Discuss any supplement changes with your healthcare provider.
Vitamins C and D3 are linked to improved immune functioning. Impaired D3 metabolism may play a role in the production or causation of thyroid tumors. Vitamin C may have antitumor properties.
Long-term studies show that supplementing with vitamin C—along with other antioxidants—can reduce the risk of developing cancer. Vitamin E is another important nutrient to consider. A recent study links the dietary form with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
Another recent study finds garlic extract to be a good weapon against melanoma. Garlic’s naturally occurring sulfur compounds may suppress the growth of cancer cells. Supplementing with lycopene can be of benefit too. A powerful antioxidant and member of the carotenoid family, lycopene’s been found to offer cancer protection. Low levels have been associated with greater breast cancer risk.