I get many questions on how best to eat when cancer is a concern. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are some tips that can help prevent all types of cancers and make anyone healthier and happier.
What are the best vegetables to eat to help prevent cancer?: Vegetables and fruits are healthy choices no matter the health concerns. Researchers studying the compounds in crucifers have found that they work to prevent cancer from forming, in part by helping the liver get rid of carcinogenic compounds, and they enhance survival after a diagnosis by slowing and stopping the growth of cancer cells.
Eat arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, rutabaga, turnip greens, turnips and watercress.
Is it safe to eat soy?: Soy is a great source of vegetable-based protein and comes in many forms. It contains compounds called isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens, meaning they can act like the estrogen our bodies make. They seem to have a beneficial effect. Where things get really mixed is with breast cancer, as some studies show a preventive effect, others a negative impact. Some forms of breast cancer are hormone-dependent, meaning hormones like estrogen can feed the growth of tumor cells. With estrogen-receptive cancers, treatment may include tamoxifen, which blocks the estrogen receptors on the cells to slow the growth of the tissue.
Avoid soy products if you've been diagnosed with a hormone-dependent cancer, or you're taking tamoxifen because of your risk (soy interferes with the effectiveness of the drug). Soy sauce is OK because it doesn't contain isoflavones.
What about eating meat?: Eating meat is a triple-whammy when it comes to cancer prevention:
Whammy No. 1: Meat is high in dietary fat. Studies have shown that countries with a higher intake of fat, especially from animal products, have a higher incidence of cancer. Studies of red meat consumption by the American Institute of Cancer Research have also shown links to increased risk of various types of cancers. The high fat content in animal products leads to increased hormone production, which then increases the risk of cancers that are hormone-related.
Whammy No. 2: Meat lacks the nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants, that have a protective effect on our health. Produce is high in fiber to help keep the food moving through the GI system, and contains a rainbow of antioxidants. Since meat doesn't have those benefits, it can have a negative effect.
Whammy No. 3: Grilling and charring meat adds to the carcinogenic effect. It turns out that grilling food can expose it to PAHs, created when the food's fat drips onto the heat source, causing the food to be coated with PAH-filled smoke and HCAs, created when food is cooked over high heat, and when red meat is cooked well done.