While there is no one specific food that fights cancer single-handedly, eating a healthy, balanced diet could be a factor in reducing your cancer risk. We have strong evidence showing us that a diet made up of a variety of foods like fruits, whole grains and vegetables can help reduce cancer risks. Research also shows certain cancers, like breast and colon, are linked to obesity, in which diet plays a role. Here are five facts about ways food and nutrition can be used to help fight cancer.

  1. Antioxidant-rich foods can help fight cancer. Antioxidants can actually help protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that cause damage to our body’s cells. While our body produces some antioxidants on its own, it primarily relies on external sources, like the food we eat, as its main source. We like to tell people that the highest levels of antioxidants are found in the most colorful fruits and vegetables. Spinach, blueberries, strawberries and pomegranates are examples of foods with high levels of antioxidants. An antioxidant found in tomatoes called lycopene has shown some evidence of reducing prostate cancer rates for men.
     
  2. Low fat, high fiber diets are best. The American Cancer Society dietary guidelines suggest limiting meat products, high fat dairy or high sodium foods. Replacing those foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high fiber foods may help reduce cancer risk. Lower calorie foods lead to weight loss, and being overweight is linked to several types of cancer. While there is still more research that needs to be done in this area, people who are overweight should consider losing weight to lower their cancer risk. In addition to helping with weight loss, high-fiber diets have been linked to lower risk for breast cancer.
     
  3. Too much alcohol increases the risk of at least six types of cancers. Colorectal, breast, esophageal, liver, stomach and oral (technically mouth, larynx and pharynx cancers) cancers have been linked to alcohol. Wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages contain a carcinogen, ethyl alcohol, which researchers believe might be linked to cancer. Alcohol can also damage our DNA, help carry cancer-causing substances into cells, or be linked with higher levels of estrogen, which could help cancer cells grow. An excessive amount of alcohol could lead to liver damage, and smoking while drinking alcohol is particularly harmful for mouth and throat cancers.
     
  4. Eating flaxseed might reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Some new and exciting research is being done showing flaxseed consumption is linked to reduced risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers. Ground flaxseed, sold in powdered form, can be mixed into oatmeal, smoothies or sprinkled into yogurt or cereal. It contains lignans, which can help decrease estrogen activity in the body.
     
  5. If cancer is diagnosed, certain foods can help manage symptoms. In working with patients who have received a cancer diagnosis, there are ways we can use food to help with their symptoms and discomfort. If a patient is experiencing nausea during treatment, I recommend a bland diet with foods that are soft, low in fiber, cooked instead of raw and not spicy, heavy or fried. Smaller, more frequent meals are easier on the stomach. For patients who lack appetite, high-calorie, high-protein foods are best, such as peanut butter, avocados and adding protein powders to oatmeal. If diarrhea is an issue, eating low-fiber foods helps slow down the system.

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About the Author

Kara Sonntag, RD, CSO, CD is a registered dietitian who works with cancer patients across the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network. She counsels patients more than 2,000 times each year and has worked in oncology for 15 years.

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