Food & TravelHealth & Wellness

Food as Medicine

We often talk about food as it relates to losing or gaining weight. In addition, there is discussion of foods for energy and foods for pleasure and entertainment. One area not often spoken about is food as medicine.

Cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death, exceeded only by heart disease. Experts blame a third of all cancers on diet and lifestyle choices. From all the media attention, we should know by now that many lifestyle and diet choices can actually contribute to and increase our vulnerability to cancer. However, emerging research suggests that some foods may actually help to prevent cancer.

Amazingly, in spite of tobacco causing 30 percent of cancer deaths in the United States, one in five adults still chooses to smoke. What are they thinking? According to the American Cancer Society, an additional 30 percent or more of cancer deaths are caused by diet and lifestyle choices, such as lack of physical activity and the foods that we choose to eat. According to the ACS, for those of us who do not smoke, nutrition and lifestyle choices are the most important factors affecting cancer risk.

In the past, research has been very effective at determining foods that appear to increase our risks of cancer. However, flurries of recent studies have suggested that some foods may actually be cancer fighters. Although this research is not 100 percent definitive, these foods offer many other health benefits. It is a good idea to add them to your diet, even without the potential benefit of actually fighting cancer.

First things first, eat more fruits and vegetables. It seems like I am always saying this. Besides being cancer fighters, these babies are good for you in just about every way. For instance, lycopene in tomatoes have been shown to fight pancreatic cancer in men. A diet high in cruciferous vegetables—such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower—has been found to benefit people with genetic predisposition to lung cancer. Many studies have suggested that berries and red grapes may have cancer-preventive properties. It is so wonderful that onions and garlic are linked to significant reductions in risk for colorectal, ovarian, prostate, breast, renal, esophageal, oral cavity and throat cancer. One study found that the risk of kidney cancer went down by 55 percent when men ate six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, compared to those who only ate three servings per day. Green leafy vegetables and root vegetables were seen to significantly reduce the risks of stomach cancer. I only have one thing to say: “Bring on the salad!”

Second in line is calcium. We all should know that increased levels of calcium can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Now, research is telling us that higher levels of calcium will help to reduce the risks of colorectal cancer. Here, you might want to bump up your calcium intake with a supplement. The recommended daily intake from the research is 1,200 milligrams per day.

Third are fish and omega-3 fatty acids. I know—all we ever hear about is heart disease and fish and omega-3. Well, that is not the whole story. Newer research is now touting the benefits of fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids in reducing our risks for colorectal cancer as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. Rejoice fish foes, because you can get similar benefits from a fish-oil supplement.

Olive oil comes in as number four. Studies have shown that people from Mediterranean countries where higher levels of olive oil are consumed are less prone to breast, colon and prostate cancers compared to those folks in northern Europe.

Number five is tea. It does not matter if it is green or black tea. Studies suggest that both varieties of tea have anti-carcinogenic potential. Polyphenols in tea have been found to decrease breast, colon, prostate and liver cancer cells.

Although more research needs to be done to better define and explain these findings there is no doubt that all of these foods have many benefits above and beyond cancer. So, what do you have to lose? Go for it and indulge, for your good health!

Dr. Stuart Offer is a wellness educator, lifestyle coach and personal trainer who lives in Williston.

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