The Best Kind of Food Fight:
How to Combat Cancer with a Healthy Diet
It doesn’t have to be complicated: quality, variety and balance are the three essential factors when it comes to helping to manage cancer with diet. Packing your meals full of cancer-fighting foods can serve as natural compliments to your treatment.
The team at Curve have conducted extensive research and collected evidence from leading studies (such as those conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Cancer Society (ACS)) and have created a collection of dietary tips to help you feel healthier, get stronger and become more resilient to cancer. What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of the space and, needless to say, always seek the advice of your doctor before making changes.
Many plant-based foods abound in beneficial micro and phytonutrients that have anticarcinogenic properties and contribute to helping prevent cancer from growing. Regardless of your stage in cancer development, it is worth having a predominantly vegetarian diet, rich in colourful fruits and vegetables, to really get the most of these invaluable nutrients that will help with cancer treatment. Examples include:
- Carotenoids and flavonoids: found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruits such as bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and blueberries and squash. Carotenoids and flavonoids have been shown to reduce the risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers.
- Sulforaphane: which is found in brassicas (cruciferous) vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, arugula and watercress. This compound helps the body to eliminate cancer-causing compounds and is thought to reduce inflammation.
- Allicin and allyl sulphides: found in garlic and onions. These compounds bind with toxic chemicals so they can be excreted from the body, rather than taking a hold on your organs. The sulphides combat oxidation and free radicals, which can cause cancer.
- Lycopene: found in tomatoes. Lycopene is particularly beneficial in the prevention of prostate cancer, as in guards against the development of free radicals and DNA damage.
Every individual has different needs and responses. It is important to bear in mind that after surgery or certain treatments, for example, you may need to restrict potassium (which is high in many vegetables) to avoid putting undue stress on your digestive system. Always ask a doctor or nutritionist for more personal advice.
Regular consumption of whole grains brings a number of key benefits:
- Antioxidants and folate (an essential water-soluble B vitamin): These nutrients are thought to boost your immune system and help protect against the development and spread of cancer cells.
- Fibre: This has a dual benefit. Firstly, as it pushes food along the alimentary canal, it assists in removing toxins from the bowel. Secondly, fibre contributes to cultivating beneficial microbes in your body, which can help build immunity and therefore resistance to various cancers (notably stomach, mouth, and pharynx cancer).
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are particularly advantageous for their healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Common sources include nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish – foods which are fundamental components of Mediterranean and Japanese diets. Foods such as oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed also contain omega-3, a nutrient which helps lower the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers in particular.
Protein is essential to growth and recovery from cancer treatment. Plant-based and animal-based protein sources (such as eggs) help with the cancer-fighting and bodily healing process.
‘Coffee as a cancer promoter or inhibitor’ is a more complicated question. For most people, moderate consumption of coffee by cancer-patients brings potential benefits in the form of polyphenols. These antioxidants may help to neutralise damaging free radicals that can cause disruption of genetic messages and damage to cell components. However, it’s important to be wary of the way coffee is produced: Roasting coffee beans produces acrylamides which are probable carcinogens, while compounds such as cafestol and kahweol have been linked to high blood cholesterol with higher coffee consumption.
In short, it really depends on each individual as to whether coffee can be part of an anticancer diet. For most, coffee in moderation is fine.
Foods To Avoid
You can tailor your diet to avoid certain foods that can potentially trigger a normal cell to become a cancer cell.
It is best to reduce or eliminate your alcohol intake. Alcohol affects DNA through epigenetic abnormalities, and in reducing the amount of folate which is essential in the normal epigenetic control of the DNA. In general, alcohol has been seen as a carcinogen linked to mouth, oesophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas and breast cancers. Fortunately, there is a growing market for alcohol-free beverages, and this can help the transition off alcohol if you are a regular drinker.
Mouldy nuts and grains can harbour mycotoxins, which are damaging natural carcinogens that should be avoided.
But that doesn’t mean that all fungi are detrimental. Mushrooms are seen as a powerful cancer-fighting food which may help to support a healthy immune response.
In general, buying fresh produce and using it promptly can help avoid ingestion of natural carcinogens like mycotoxins.
Red meat, notably from beef, lamb and pork, are ‘probable carcinogens’, particularly for cancers of the digestive system, but much of that has to do with the way they are cooked. Smoking, broiling, char-grilling and especially barbecuing meat can allow smoke from the coals to permeate the meat can produce heterocyclic amines (HCA). These are potent carcinogens, linked to stomach, bowel and breast cancers in particular.
It is prudent to reduce the intake of these proteins and substitute them with more plant-based proteins.
However, if you do consume meat, try to:
- Consume in moderation
- Choose unsmoked and uncured fresh meat
- Cook till just golden (avoid charring)
- Cook at a low temperature using liquids
Diet and the Elderly
Energy requirements generally reduce with old age due to a decrease in the resting calorie use, this is a direct result of a decline in physical activity. Other changes such as a less-effective synthesis of vitamin D also occur.
As nutritional needs for the elderly change, it means that the standard three meals a day rule might not fit the individual. Some may prefer to eat five small meals, snacks or even just one main meal a day, and that’s perfectly acceptable – as long as they get the right nutritional value.
It is also human nature for us to care for loved ones and family that are close to us. Therefore, ensuring your elders get the right nutrition as they grow old is vital to staying healthy and supporting their bodies ageing needs.
Opting for a good local home care is the perfect way to ensure their dietary needs are being met. The best care agencies understand that making a new lifestyle choice such as personal care can be overwhelming at first, and therefore guide you through the dietary requirements process. In both cases, it is essential to find the right care for your loved ones and the best place to start is by checking the Care Quality Commission’s register (CQC)
Importance Of Diet & Age
Tooth enamel tends to wear away with ageing, making the teeth vulnerable to damage and decay. Tooth loss is the major reason that older people cannot chew as well and thus may not consume enough nutrients. When older people lose their teeth, the portion of the jaw bone that held those teeth in place does not maintain its previous height and thus appears to waste away. If diet is not carefully planned, you may run into unexpected dental treatments meaning you need a 24-hour dentist, which is not the ideal situation in these circumstances.
In short, It’s All About Balance
Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and certain proteins can greatly help in the fight against cancer. Simple swaps and additions to your diet can transform the way your body responds and deals with cancer, no matter what stage you are at. There is no such thing as a “miracle” or “super” food, but our extensive research has shown that it is beneficial to supplement your treatment with certain foods, to not only improve your physical health but also make you feel mentally-strong and confident about dealing with cancer.