‘You are what you eat’ – which could mean life or death if you’re not careful.
“A third of the most common cancers in the United States can be prevented through diet,” says Erika Jenschke, R.D., oncology dietitian at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center -Texas Medical Center, citing American Institute for Cancer Research data.
If you’re looking to make a clean break from not-so-healthy eating, here’s an anti-cancer diet with 10 easy steps – and perks.
Step One: Pump up your volume of veggies and fruit.
Why: “Phytochemicals – giving plant foods their flavor, color, fiber and texture – can help prevent damage to cells’ DNA which can cause cancer,” Jenschke says. They also block carcinogens and curb inflammation that fuels cancer cell growth.
How: Eat five servings daily of non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and seek rainbows of reds, oranges, yellows, light and dark greens, blues, purples and even whites and browns. Different colors provide different phytochemicals.
Single servings are a half-cup of cooked veggies, frozen fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, one cup leafy vegetables, one-fourth cup of dried fruit, half a banana or one medium-size piece of fresh fruit. Ration more caloric dried, sweetened or syrup-canned fruits.
Add frozen broccoli, spinach and green peas to boiling pasta, substitute zucchini or squash pasta for white-flour spaghetti and mix broccoli with mac and cheese. Also blend blueberries or banana in oatmeal, add mushrooms to ground beef and stir canned unseasoned pumpkin puree into spaghetti sauce.
On your plate, reserve half for vegetables and fruits, a fourth for low-fat proteins (including edamame, lentils and kidney beans) and a fourth for starchy foods, including corn, sweet potatoes and summer squash.
Perk: You’ll eat fewer calories, thus whittle your weight and waist, which trims cancer’s likelihood.
Step Two: Bulk up on fiber.
Why: Fiber decreases colorectal cancer risk. It adds bulk and shortens the time potentially carcinogenic waste travels through the colon.
How: Women should consume about 25 grams of fiber daily and men about 35 grams, Jenschke says. Switch from white pasta, rice, potatoes and sweetened cereals and high-sugar foods to high-fiber foods such as peas, lentils, black beans, artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, raspberries, blackberries, bran flakes, whole wheat pasta, barley and oatmeal. “In prepared foods, make whole wheat flour the first ingredient,” Jenschke says.
Perk: Fiber fills you, so you’re less likely to overeat – while fighting heart disease, diabetes and constipation.
Step Three: Switch to healthy fats.
Why: High-fat diets raise risks of breast, prostate, colon and other cancers. Crucial is the type of fat. Monounsaturated (canola and olive) and polyunsaturated (high-fat fish like salmon and tuna) slow cancer growth.
How: Ditch high-fat whipping cream and whole milk for one-percent cow’s milk and reduced-fat almond, soy and coconut milk. Nix saturated-fat rich coconut, palm and palm kernel oils for healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, almond, walnut and flaxseed. Eat red salmon and white tuna (packed in water) twice weekly or more.
Step Four: Spice it up.
Why: Herbs and spices often are rich in cancer-thwarting phytochemicals.
How: Wider hue ranges vary your arsenal, so add cinnamon, lemons, cumin, tumeric, limes, cilantro, onions and garlic.
Perk: Food never need be boring!
Step Five: Quit cured, smoked, salted and preserved meats.
Why: Salami, bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs and bologna are high in carcinogenic nitrite.
How: “Avoid them,” Jenschke says.
Perk: Lower-salt diets also curb heart disease.
Step Six: Limit red meat.
Why: Beef, pork and lamb contain heme iron, which can harm the colon’s lining. High temperatures during grilling unlock cancer-causing chemicals.
How: Limit red meat to 18 ounces per week, substituting wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.
Perk: Red meat’s saturated fat can fuel heart disease.
Step Seven: Prepare food differently.
Why: “Cooking foods at high temperatures, along with breading of flour, can change their chemistry, harming cells’ DNA,” Jenschke says.
How: Bake, broil or poach poultry, fish and meat instead of frying or charbroiling them. Read nutrition facts labels and weed hydrogenated fats, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. “The fewer ingredients, the better,” Jenschke says.
Perk: You shave calories.
Step Eight: Limit alcohol.
Why: The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risks of head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal cancers.
How: Women should have only one drink and men two daily, one being 8 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of hard liquor. Tobacco with alcohol fuels cancer more than either alone, Jenschke says. Women at high risk of breast cancer may consider not drinking any alcohol.
Perk: You pare your waist.
Step Nine: Stop mindless eating.
Why: Make wiser choices by munching mindfully. “We often don’t think when we eat.”
How: Alter your routine. Eat at a table, not in a car or while watching TV. Put your fork down between bites. Also keep a diary of foods and feelings as you eat. “Seeing it on paper, you can try to improve day to day.”
Perk: You’ll enjoy meals more and eat less.
Step Ten: Don’t wait to start.
Why: “Beginning healthy habits early makes it easier to comply later in life,” Jenschke says.
How: Ditch regrets and try step by step, she says. “It’s never too late.”
Perk: You’ll feel the benefits sooner than later.
To learn more anti-cancer health tips, visit About Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers