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Quinn on Nutrition: Nutrition affects cancer risk

 April 16, 2018

Blame it on spring fever. Or perhaps the fact that Iím staring out the window as a beautiful spring storm rages through our area. At any rate, my mind is jumping to several findings that relate our diet to the development (or protection from) cancer: 

Itís been estimated that we could prevent more than half of all cancers if we would modify our habits, especially those related to smoking (donít do it) and diet. And one of every three cases of cancer can be traced to what we eat (or donít eat).  Still, the evidence of what and how we should eat to prevent cancer is at best inconsistent, according to a review on this topic in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Although researchers are hard pressed to find dietary components that directly cause cancer, certain components in our diet are linked to an increased risk. For example, a high intake of added sugar and soft drinks is significantly associated with an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Saturated fat from animal sources like red meat and dairy foods is also a risk factor for this type of cancer in some individuals. And higher intakes of fish (not fried, please) are associated with a lower the risk for pancreatic cancer.

Some beneficial microbes in our gut ó what some people call good bacteria or probiotics ó may help our bodies fight off the development of colon cancer, according to researcher and registered dietitian Johanna Lampe of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. We can keep these good bugs working by feeding them healthful types of carbohydrates found in dried beans and lentils (Iíve got split pea soup simmering in my Crock pot now), onions, garlic and artichokes. 

In addition, foods like oats, barley, mushrooms, apples, pears, raisins, peaches and plums contain fermentable fibers, resistant starches and other types of fibers that are apparently considered delicacies by our good gut microbes. When good bacteria (probiotics) feed on these prebiotics, they produce substances that nourish the lining of the colon and may also help shut down the road that can lead to cancer.

Hereís some disappointing news. Although modest amounts of alcohol may help protect against heart disease, the American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org) recommends we donít drink alcohol at all for cancer prevention. Thatís because even small amounts can increase our risk for some types of cancer such as breast cancer. If you do drink alcohol, says these and other health experts, limit your intake to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. (One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled alcohol.) 

We donít have all the answers about how some cancers happen, but experts say we can substantially lower our risk for developing or dying from cancer if we consistently follow these four recommendations: maintain a healthy body weight, stay physically active, consume a diet that includes a high amount of plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes) and limit our intake of alcohol. 

 

 





 



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