By Jennifer Hasting, Dietetic Intern
23,200. According to the CDC, that’s the number of South Carolinians likely
to be diagnosed with cancer this year.
14,500. That’s the number of results from an Internet search engine inquiry
for books about “cancer fighting foods.”
If these statistics are any indicator, then it is quite apparent that cancer
is a concern among many of today’s consumers. With cancer being
a disease that so often leaves people feeling powerless, more are now
searching for ways to take treatment and prevention into their own hands.
Despite what you may have seen on TV or read in a magazine, there is no
magic cancer-fighting bullet—no special pill, tea or supplement
that will be the disease cure-all.
Don’t despair! Scientists who study the relationship of food and
chronic disease are increasingly finding evidence that certain naturally
occurring components of food (particular vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals)
have anti-cancer properties. Research is still needed to pinpoint exactly
what these compounds are doing in our body, but it is becoming increasingly
clear that diet can play a major role in the fight against cancer.
You might now know what it means, but you’ve likely seen or heard
the word ‘antioxidants’ at least a dozen or so times before.
The word isn’t as intimidating as it seems. Let’s break it
down, starting with ‘-oxidant.’ Just like it sounds, an oxidant
is a molecule that contains oxygen. This oxygen-containing molecule can
interact with (oxidize) other molecules in the body and create things
called free radicals—highly reactive atoms. This is a normal process
in the body, but too much oxidation can be a bad thing. It can lead to
chronic inflammation, which scientists now believe to be the source of
many of today’s chronic illnesses, including cancer. Now tack on
the prefix ‘anti-’, and you get a word that means something
that works against this oxidation process. Antioxidants safely interact
with free radicals and stop the chain of reactions that lead to oxidative
stress and inflammation.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “A healthy diet
can lower your risk for developing cancer. And if you have been diagnosed,
eating well can positively support treatment, and help you live well for
years to come after treatment.”
The American Institute for Cancer Research’s website has a list of
common foods with cancer fighting abilities. Here’s a list of my
top five favorites, and the reasons why:
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries . . . you pick! They are all chock-full
of cancer-fighting antioxidant nutrient vitamin C and many phytochemicals.
Ellagic acid, in particular, has been associated with skin, bladder, lung,
esophagus and breast cancers. Plus, berries are great sources of fiber,
which may decrease risk for colorectal cancer.
Broccoli and cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, rapini
and Brussels sprouts don’t get as much attention as the dark, leafy
greens kale and collard greens, but they have just as many cancer-fighting
nutrients. Vitamin C, beta-carotene and glucosinolates, to name a few,
are in all of these yummy veggies!
Garlic: I don’t know about you, but I put garlic in everything! Did you
know it’s considered a vegetable? It is part of the allium family
that includes onions, leeks, and scallions. Garlic has the phytochemicals
quercetin and allixin and other organic compounds. Studies show that these
compounds might have the ability to slow the growth of tumors in the prostate,
bladder, colon, and stomach.
Dried beans and peas: Not only are beans, peas, and lentils great sources of plant-based protein,
but they also have unique substance called resistant starch that protects
colon cells. They’re also a source of lignans, saponins and folate,
which studies show might help reduce pancreatic cancer risk. What’s
good for the gut is good for you!
Coffee: Yes, I love coffee for the daily morning perk it gives me, but I also
love it because it is a concentrated source of antioxidants! Chlorogenic
and quinic acids are just two of the phytochemicals that have been linked
to lowered risk of endometrial and liver cancers.
Other foods with cancer-fighting properties include whole grains, tea,
tomatoes, walnuts and soy. The key thing to remember is that there is
no magic bullet - no one particular nutrient that is the source for all
things anti-cancer. It is the
combination of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that improve our health and give
us the best chance of being cancer free.
Make a goal this month to include at least two of the cancer-fighting foods a day!
Nutrition remains an important aspect of care even after diagnosis. Trident
Health Cancer Center dietitian, Alisha Bowen, also emphasizes the importance
of eating a well-rounded diet during treatment. According to Bowen, “Including
fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet can provide
you with the energy needed to feel your best throughout treatment. Make
sure to include a protein with each meal and snack. Eating well also helps
maintain weight. Regardless of your pre-treatment weight, weight loss
should never be a goal during cancer treatments.”
Alisha Bowen, RD and Trident Health Chef Toan Nguyen participating in a
To make an appointment with a Trident Health dietitian, have your physician
fax a referral to 1-877-609-9754.