In the past five decades, enormous research has gone into understanding of the relationship of cancer with environment, diet and lifestyle. The fact is that changes in our lifestyle can powerfully protect us against cancer.
The relationship between cancer and nutrition is one of the oldest known. Epidemiological data linking dietary factors and cancer are remarkably consistent. However, recently a study published in the journal Science at the beginning of the year, suggested that two-thirds of cancers were caused by chance, and therefore, could not be prevented. But Indian and international cancer organisations and scientific communities condemned the report. According to many, to oversimplify this multi-factorial, complex disease and simply blaming it on luck is misleading and potentially harmful as it may discourage people from making healthy lifestyle choices proven to prevent cancer.
Cancer has assumed grave proportions not only in the Western world but also in developing countries like India. According to WHO projections for India, deaths from cancer are expected to triple by 2015 and India is expected to peak with all kinds of cancer by 2025-30. According to statistics, 10 lakh Indians get diagnosed with cancer every year while seven lakh others succumb to it.
While genetic predisposition does play a role, environmental triggers including our lifestyle are needed to express those genes in most instances. The fact is that the food we eat, the air we breathe and the choices we make — be it to smoke, drink alcohol or not exercise regularly — are more linked to our chances of getting cancer than luck.
Certain constituents in diet can help protect or retard the process of cancer. Evidence consistently supports an inverse relationship between cancer risk and intake of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, anti-oxidants, micronutrients such as vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, magnesium, dietary fibre, certain types of fat (omega-3 fats, CLAs (conjugated linoleic acid), MCTs (medium chain triglycerides found in unprocessed coconut oil), pre-and pro-biotics and dietary changes to manage weight.
CLAs can be obtained from dairy products. For those who are dairy-sensitive, alternatives can be suggested by a qualified professional. Probiotics can be best included through fermented dairy products (yogurt, buttermilk), dietary supplements (probiotic drinks, powders, capsules). High fibre foods such as wholegrains, oats, wheatbran, barley, isabgol (psyllium), soybeans and soy-based products, pulses, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, fenugreek seeds, garlic, onions, leek (like spring onions), carrots, citrus fruits are which contain prebiotics.
Foods high in dietary fibre may offer vital protection against colon cancer and also against the “Western cancers” —rectum, prostate, uterus and breast.
Cold-pressed oils such as mustard, sesame, extra-virgin olive oil; seed and nuts such as flax, chia, lotus, sesame, poppy, sunflower, melon, watermelon, pumpkin are useful for deriving anti-cancer nutrients and friendly fats.
Other anti-cancer foods that have gained popularity are garlic, turmeric, green tea, red wine, whey, moringa (drumsticks), wheatgrass, beetroot, pine bark, aloe vera, grape-fruit extract, spirulina and some varieties of mushrooms, soy and soy products.
Dietary Tips and tricks:
* Include colourful vegetables — aim to have at least half of them uncooked
* Wholegrains should replace refined ones. Sprout and ferment grains improve nutrient availability.
* Snack on dry fruits, nuts, seeds and roasted grains
* Reduce sugary foods and drinks, fatty, cured and processed meats
* Replace refined oils with natural fats and cold pressed oils
* Flavour foods with natural herbs and spices rather than synthetic colours preservatives or additives.
* Limit alcohol intake and stop tobacco consumption.
* Drink plenty of fluids and water. Exercise regularly
* Use organic and locally grown foods as far as possible
* Cook in safe cooking vessels like iron, stainless steel