Avoid the big ‘C’: fibre good; meat, salt bad

2012-06-27 00:00

INTERNATIONAL Cancer Survivor’s Day is celebrated on June 3. Research shows that more than 40% of cancers are preventable, so we’ll continue in part two to look at what lifestyle choices we can make to ensure the greatest protection against the big “C”.

Eat more fibre

Fibre is the part of food that is mainly indigestible. It is an essential part of our diet that has been linked to a reduction in numerous diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes, heart disease, constipation, diverticulitis and obesity just to name a few. Despite this commonly heard advice to increase fibre, it is not always a simple feat to achieve.

The daily recommended amount of fibre is 30 grams to 40 grams for adults. Translating this into actual food intake can be tricky to achieve. Eating a high-fibre breakfast cereal is a simple way of making a dent in the 40-gram requirement, as long as you choose the right one.

• One cup of high-fibre bran sticks cereal gives 14 grams of fibre.

• One cup of bran flakes is also a good choice, giving 10 grams of fibre (compared with puffed rice that only gives 0,1 grams and corn flakes which provide one gram).

• A serving of oats porridge gives four grams of fibre compared with less than one gram from other porridges such as mielie meal and Maltabella.

Get into the habit of reading food labels and choose the cereal that has the highest fibre content you can find. You will notice that the cereals proudly advertised as “whole grain” often have very low fibre contents. Look instead for wording indicating bran enriched or high fibre or better yet, rely on the nutritional composition table on the side of the box.

As far as bread options go, one slice of low-GI bread gives four grams of fibre. Regular brown or even whole-wheat loaves give only two grams per slice. Avoid refined white crackers and rather opt for whole-wheat, bran-rich versions whenever you can.

Enjoy a bowl of popcorn as a fibre fix. It contains up to six times the amount of fibre compared to potato crisps and is a much healthier lower fat snack option.

Vegetables and fruits (with the skins) are also good sources of fibre. Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits (combined) per day. As we discussed last time, remember to eat a “traffic light” of red, yellow and green coloured vegetables every day.

Avoid processed meats and reduce red meat intake

Instead of red meat such as beef or lamb, rather eat more skinless chicken, fish and ostrich meat. These are much lower in fat and are associated with less risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Colorectal cancer incidence is strongly associated with high intakes of red meat and processed meats.

Processed meats such as bacon, smoked ham, polony, cold-meat selections and viennas have a large number of preservatives added to increase shelf life and enhance colour.

The most common additive used is sodium nitrite, or sodium nitrate. The sodium (salt) content is therefore very high and leads to high blood pressure and water retention. More concerning, however, is the nitrate or nitrite content. The presence of nitrates and nitrites in food is associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer, impaired immune function and lung damage similar to emphysema. Despite the convenience, rather use cold leftover cooked chicken or leftover roast meat for sandwiches instead of buying processed cold meats.

While on the topic of meat, also take care to avoid any char-grilled or burnt meat. If you enjoy meat on the braai, take care to cut off all visible fat to reduce the likelihood of blackening the meat. Eating burnt or charred meat is strongly linked to colon cancer.

Limit salt: rather use herbs and spices to flavour food

Experiment with fresh herbs, spices, lemon juice, garlic and onion to flavour food instead of using excessive salt. Although some salt is important, our Western diets are usually very high in added salt. Limit the use of stock cubes, packet soup powders, soya sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Rather use lemon juice, vinegar and herbs for flavour. A low-salt food is classified as one that contains less than 120 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of food.

Take on the challenge of reading food labels in the next two weeks. Try to find the highest fibre cereal and the lowest sodium products and your cancer risk will be on the decline. Join me again next time for some further advice on protecting our bodies against the big “C”.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@iburst.co.za

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