Cancer prevention through the years shows importance of diet

Published Mar 26, 2017 at 9:00am

Evidence presented about the importance of physical activity, to lab studies on the use of photochemicals: medical research over the last 35-40 years has revealed many methods to fight cancer.

First, studies of individuals who consumed fruits, vegetables and other plant foods illustrated they were at a decreased risk of developing several chronic diseases, including cancer. The old idea was that eating three square meals a day along with exercise would keep illnesses away.

Scientists began to investigate the diet and exercise link further — and then began to shift into cancer. Evidence emerged that single dietary compounds might play a key role in reducing cancer risks.

One of the first compounds identified was sulforaphane, a phytochemical in broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables.

Researchers thought that plants might contain a “magic bullet” — a single compound that can prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. Research focused on single nutrients within the so-called super foods, such as anthocyanins in blueberries, isothiocyanate in broccoli, cauliflower and kale and resveratrol in grapes. However, new evidence has emerged that these compounds do not act alone upon cancers. Experts now believe you must eat a vast array of different foods which play a part fighting cancers and other diseases. 

Along with diet, one other major factor in fighting cancer is physical activity. There is rising understanding between the interaction of physical activity, weight and diet can help prevent cancer, recurrence of disease, secondary cancers, and improve overall quality of life. Research now shows that we can prevent approximately one-third of most common cancers through diet and physical activity. In addition, a non-smoking lifestyle is a key part to living a cancer protected life. 

Unfortunately, most Americans are not taking the steps needed to prevent cancers and other diseases. Most people do not eat healthy or are not active as they should be due to cost, time, and difficulty.

People incorrectly believe eating healthy just costs too much money. Fresh veggies, produce and meats tend to cost more than there frozen counterparts and require more time to prepare.

Fast foods are quick, but not necessarily cheap. People refuse to take time to eat healthy, even though treating a cancer or other health problem will cost much more time in the end.

We all live very busy lifestyles and people have difficulty doing the weekly planning required to produce healthy meals or to be active.

As a result, Americans find it to difficult to lose weight. Many are turning to bariatric surgery to fight obesity because it brings quick results. Given that excess body fat is the cause of many cancers, this surgery may likely decrease the risk of some obesity related cancers. Of course surgery comes with many other complications and only time will tell if research supports reduction in cancer. 

The best cancer prevention steps are to eat a mix of foods: more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat free or low fat dairy, and a variety of proteins. Instead of limiting red meat, only choose lean meats. Limit sugar, caffeine, and alcohol consumption.

In addition, we must increase physical activity to at least 30 minutes of moderate activity daily.

Rather than New Year’s resolutions, in our area, spring is the time to start walking outside. In honor of spring, I recommend you get some of your protein intake from eggs, which are cheap and quick to prepare. 

Hard boiled eggs are very easy: 

Place eggs in pot on stove and fill with cold water. Bring water to full boil then turn off heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

Poached eggs are also a good option: 

Simmer water in pot over low heat. Crack egg into pot — cook 2 minutes for soft egg, 3 minutes for medium, and 4 minutes for firm. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to capture from hot water. Serve on toast or over salad and enjoy!