Cancer: prevention is better than cure

2012-07-13 00:00

TODAY I continue the series on cancer prevention by taking a look at some products and foods that should be avoided in our kitchens. A total of 90% of all cancers are caused by factors in our environment.

This includes pollution, smoking, sun exposure and poor dietary and exercise habits. Not all of these factors are within our control, but many of the risks can be eliminated if we have the correct knowledge.

Avoiding potentially dangerous substances in our food or in the utensils that we use in the kitchen is one aspect that we can influence. I have already covered the importance of avoiding charred or burnt food, and reducing our intake of smoked or cured cold meats. These products contain a variety of chemicals, additives and preservatives that are linked to increased cancer risk. Today, I will focus on two more products that increase the chance of cancer.

Trans fats

Most of us are aware of the health risks of eating excessive amounts of saturated fats (those found mainly in animal products such as fatty meat, chicken skin, cream and cheeses), but trans-fats are twice as dangerous to the heart and are also associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Trans fats are the result of chemically altering liquid fats into solid fats, such as plant oils being converted into hardened fats. This process converts healthy fats into unhealthy fats.

When scientists first discovered trans fats, it was hailed by industry as a positive development that increased sales and profits due to the fats having a longer shelf life and a wide variety of uses. However, since their discovery, it has become clear how detrimental these fats are to health as they increase cholesterol, increase insulin and increase the risk of a stroke and a heart attack. Most trans fats are used in industrial baking and confectionery, as well as in fast-food restaurants for deep frying. These fats are popular in commercial use as oil with trans fats can be reused many times in commercial fryers.

Since 2003, trans fats in foods have been legislated by many governments. In South Africa they are legally restricted in foods, but are not absent or eliminated completely.

It is important to read labels and choose products that state “trans fat free”, particularly when buying margarines and commercially baked products (such as sweet or savoury biscuits and pre-prepared meals).

Choose plastic products such as water and baby bottles carefully

Last time I spoke about the importance of increasing fibre intake. When fibre intake is increased it is vital to increase water intake to avoid constipation. Drinking too little water is the most common cause of constipation. If you drink water from plastic bottles and reuse the plastic bottles, it is important to check a few safety points.

Some plastics contain ingredients that are released into the fluid in the bottle when heated. One common ingredient is bisphenol A (frequently referred to as BPA). BPA has been linked to increased breast and prostate cancer, as well as hormonal changes in babies under the age of one year. South African legislation now prohibits the presence of BPA in all baby bottles. Most plastic containers have the recycle triangle at the bottom of the container. Always check what letters are printed below this symbol. Fluids should never be reheated in plastic bottles that contain the letters PVC, PC (polycarbonate) or PS (polystyrene). Reusing plastic bottles or containers is only dangerous if the plastic is heated while food items or fluids are in the container. Reusing plastic bottles for drinking water is safe as long as the bottle is not heated to high temperatures. The Cancer Association of South Africa is encouraging all South Africans to become more aware of “living smart”. About 40% of cancers are preventable, so let’s pay attention to our environment and reduce the risk of developing this disease.

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