Is cancer preventable?
“That is a question on everyone’s mind,” says Marcia Grandsko, RD, LD, and nutrition voice at the Hickman Cancer Center at ProMedica Flower Hospital. “Research has shown that the dietary choices one makes about food, physical activity and weight management can reduce the risk of developing cancer.”
Grandsko cites research by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), which indicates that approximately one third of the most common cancers are preventable. This includes cases of breast, colorectal, endometrial, and stomach cancers.
The proof is in the numbers
The statistics will certainly make your rethink the way you eat.
AICR estimates that 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be prevented, simply by changing what we eat and how much we move. “That equates to 86,000 women every year who could be spared that diagnosis,” Grandsko adds.
Almost half of the cases of colorectal cancer, which occur in the U.S. each year, could also be prevented. According to the AICR research, as many as 70,000 cases of colorectal cancer could be prevented if Americans were to eat healthier, exercise regularly and pay attention to their waistlines.
Maintaining a healthy weight can also prevent three out of every five cases of endometrial cancer. Roughly 29,200 cases every year would never have to happen.
And if Americans consumed diets high in vegetables and fruits, and limited their salt intake, we could cut the number of yearly stomach cancer cases by 47 percent. This means if we ate meals featuring more plant foods, approximately 10,200 cases could be prevented.
“These numbers are staggering,” Grandsko says. “But if you were one of those individuals, you would be thrilled. All it takes is for us to become proactive in better health.”
The power of nutrition
As a registered and licensed dietitian, Grandsko offers a few food tips for thought.
1. Load up on phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are chemicals found only in plants, you do not get them in animal-based foods. There are thousands of different phytochemicals in plant foods and many are involved in protecting our bodies from disease. Phytochemicals stimulate the immune system, some block cancer substances from being formed in the body, some reduce inflammation and others prevent DNA damage and help with DNA repair. Some phytochemicals reduce the damage of cells through the aging process and exposure to pollution (oxidation). Phytochemicals slow the growth of cancer cells, and they also trigger the death of damaged cells.
“Phytochemicals fight for health in our bodies,” Grandsko says. “One colleague has said so wisely that phytochemicals go around the body cleaning up the stuff that causes disease.”
2. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables: Not all fruits and vegetables have the same nutrients or the same cancer-fighting phytochemicals. By “eating the rainbow” you make sure you are getting the healthiest eating pattern to lower your risk of cancer. Red and orange vegetables have carotenoids, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin that may inhibit cancer cell growth and improve immune response. Apples, citrus fruits and onions have flavonoids that may inhibit inflammation and tumor growth, and may aid in the boosting of production of detoxifying enzymes in the body.
“You can create a cancer-fighting diet by eating a mostly plant-based diet that includes a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day,” Grandsko says. “Research consistently shows that populations of people who have the lowest rates of disease consume between four and five cups of fruits and veggies every day. That is doable.”
3. Find your nutrition in food first: There is no way to duplicate all that is in food in a pill, capsule, powder, or potion. Always choose food first.
4. Take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables: Start by eating an apple every day. Our region grows almost 100 different varieties of apples. Surely, you can find one you like.
Find your food
You don’t have to be another cancer statistic. The body’s ability to resist cancer can be helped by following a healthy diet, regular physical exercise and avoiding excess body fat.
“By making a small change over time, you form a big discipline over a lifetime,” Grandsko assures.