Dietary Guidelines To Lower Your Cancer Risk

By Mr. L. N. Modi


You can reduce your chances of developing cancer by following a few simple rules for healthy eating, rules which may also help prevent coronary heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Most cancers begin when the body is exposed to a carcinogen, a cancer-causing substance present in the environment. Carcinogens can be found in tobacco, in food, in industrial compounds, or as viruses. Even the rays from the sun can be carcinogenic.

Usually, exposure to such carcinogens does not result in cancer. Our bodies' natural defenses are able to destroy many of them before they can cause any lasting damage to our cells. And even if they do manage to cause some harm, our cells are often able to repair this damage before it becomes permanent.

On rare occasions, however, a carcinogen escapes the body's natural defense and succeeds in permanently altering a cell's genes. It may, however, have less well defined effects, creating a potentially cancerous cell. Still, it usually takes years for a potentially cancerous cell to grow into a tumour, and this won't happen unless certain conditions persist in the body during those years.

How can what you eat influence whether or not your develop cancer? : A cancer does not just suddenly appear. It develops very slowly through different stages, some of which are reversible. And the food we eat can affect many, or perhaps all these stages, from the first exposure to a cancer-causing substance, to the long, gradual development of a tumour.

How? First, some foods that are known to contain significant levels of carcinogens should be avoided when possible or should be eaten only in moderation. Salt-cured and salt-pickled foods contain substances called nitrites that can be changed into carcinogens in the stomach. Smoked foods also contain carcinogens.

Second, some foods contain nutrients and other compounds which seem to help the body's natural defenses destroy carcinogens before they can cause serious damage to cells. They also may halt or types of cancer, such as cancer of the oesophagus and stomach, perhaps because it blocks the formation of carcinogens in foods preserved by pickling Vitamin C is found in many fruit and vegetables in small amounts. Especially good sources are strawberries and citrus fruit, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spring greens and green peppers.

Early evidence suggests that vitamin E may help to protect people from stomach and oesophageal cancers caused by eating foods preserved by pickling or curing with nitrite. Foods rich in vitamin E include whole grain breads and cereals and unsaturated vegetable oils.

Selenium : Experimental evidence has indicated that selenium is a mineral which may protect against colon, breast, and possibly other cancers. The amount of selenium present in food depends on how much is found in the soil where the food is grown. In Britain we eat food from all over the country as well as from around the world, so the average British diet probably contains adequate amounts of selenium.

Selenium, along with several other minerals, is toxic to humans in doses that are not much higher than the levels needed for good health. Therefore, taking selenium supplements is not recommended without the supervision of a medical expert.

Dietary Fiber : Dietary fiber is the part of plant foods which humans cannot completely digest and absorb. For many years, this "roughage" was considered unnecessary, since it doesn't contain any vitamins, minerals, protein or even calories.

We now know, however, that dietary fiber is important for keeping the intestines healthy and strong. It may also help lower blood cholesterol levels and even help people with diabetes control their blood sugar.

There is also growing evidence that foods rich in dietary fiber may help reduce the risk of developing cancer of the colon, or large intestine.

British adults consume about 20 grams of fiber a day. Health experts generally recommend at least 30 grams a day, with an upper limit around 40 grams. This dietary fiber should come from a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and pulses (lentils, beans and peas). That's because there are many different types of fiber with different effects on the body, and scientists are still sorting out the functions of each.

Carbohydrates : Carbohydrates are an important source of calories in the diet. The two types of carbohydrates in food are simple carbohydrates or sugars, and complex carbohydrates such as starch. In nature, foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grain cereals and pulses, often contain valuable amounts of many vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Foods containing mainly simple carbohydrates, such as sweets and sugary drinks, usually contain only small amounts of the nutrients important for good health and for preventing cancer.

By following the dietary guidelines to eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grain cereals and pulses we naturally increase our intake of nutritious complex carbohydrates. The World Health Organisation recommends even more specifically that each day we should eat :

  • five or more helpings or fruit and vegetables, particularly green and yellow vegetables and cirtrus fruit;

  • at least half of our daily calories from bread, cereals and other starchy foods such as rice and pasta.

Reverse steps in the cancer development process. These nutrients and compounds are found in fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals so eating more of these foods is recommended.

Third, certain types of food, if consumed regularly over long periods of time, seem to provide the kind of environment a cancer cell needs to grow, multiply and spread. These foods should be avoided or eaten only in moderation. The main offenders here are foods high in fat. some of these include fatty meat and meat products, cakes and biscuits, fried foods and high-fat dairy products.

The fact that the food we eat can have such powerful effects on so many of the steps in the development of a cancer is good news! It offers many potential opportunities for interfering with this process and preventing it from happening.

Much more research needs to be done to find out precisely which foods, nutrients or other substances in food have particular effects on the development of cancer. Yet, although there are many questions still to be answered, we already have much valuable information on how to reduce cancer risk.

Luckily, the foods which can help you to fight cancer are ordinary, nourishing and wholesome foods which can easily be found in your local shops. Of course, you can add a wide variety of exotic foods too, if you prefer, and we shall discuss the whole range of foods in more detail later in this booklet.

But there is no need to fill up your medicine cabinet with bottles of expensive nutrient supplements. No convincing evidence exists so far to indicate that nutrients in a more concentrated form are any better at preventing cancer than those nutrients found already in nourishing foods.

Following the dietary guidelines recommended by the World Cancer Research Fund does not guarantee you will never get cancer. Every human being is different and cancer is too complex and mysterious a disease to be able to provide that kind of 'assurance. Nevertheless, by following these guidelines, we believe you can improve your chances of avoiding this disease. You may also reduce your chances of getting other illnesses, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.



Source : From Dietary Guidelines, Published by Vegetarian Society of Delhi, Ahinsa Sthal, Mehrauli, N. Delhi.


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation