While we are exposed to more stressful lifestyles and pollution than ever before, increasing our risks of some cancers, it’s our choice to make healthier lifestyle decisions, starting with what we eat.
More and more evidence points to certain eating habits increasing cancer risk. But not only is a balanced, healthy diet great to help curb our risk – nutrition is also important during the treatment stage of cancer.
A diet high in saturated fat is thought to contribute to your cancer risk.
Smoked, pickled or barbecued foods are also suspects, as are certain preservatives. Alcohol usage – more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men (and more than one a day for all people over the age of 65) is also a risk factor.
But embarking on a healthier lifestyle and overhauling the way you eat doesn’t have to be complicated and change radically in one day.
The theme of World Cancer Day 2020, "I Am and I Will", recognises the importance of making the choice to go for voluntary medical screenings and making healthier lifestyle decisions. So why not make a commitment to your health today?
1. Slowly change your attitude towards food – eat for purpose
One way to wrap your head around eating healthier in general is to view food for what it is – a source of nutrition. Instead of eating out of boredom, ask yourself how you want to feel after every meal – energised and good, or sluggish and uncomfortable? From there you can start identifying how you can make healthier swaps – shredded chicken and low-fat mayonnaise on a whole wheat wrap instead of a burger for example. Start reading up on what a healthy, balanced diet entails and what each macronutrient (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) does for your body. Our dedicated nutritional experts from Nutritional Solutions can provide further help, should you require assistance to point you in the right direction.
2. Understand why certain dietary habits can increase your cancer risk
Now that you know that food is important for making your body function as well as it can, you need to understand the relationship between food and cancer. It’s simply not helpful to view some foods as “good” and others as “bad”, as this can easily become an obsessive mindset hindering your enjoyment of life.
Cancer occurs when the DNA inside the body mutates, giving cancer cells a chance to flourish.
Many of the foods we eat, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, healthy plant-based fats, contain anti-oxidants, anti-carcinogenics and other cancer-fighting chemicals, which can help our DNA prevent those mutations.
On the other hand, overly processed foods and foods high in saturated fat (the “bad” type of fats that you don’t find in plant oils) can lead to the risk of chronic disease such as higher blood pressure and diabetes, which also increases your risk of cancer.
This article explains the relationship between cancer and food in more detail.
3. Shop smarter
Now that you know why foods rich in antioxidants, like omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and other nutrients, can help lower your cancer risk, you can start making small changes in your kitchen. Not only will it be kinder to the environment (and on your wallet) to switch to more plant-based proteins, but protein sources such as chickpeas, lentils and beans are packed with fibre and minerals.
You don’t have to change your lifestyle overnight – switch your regular helping of red meat to lean white protein such as chicken or fish. When you do want to enjoy red meat, shop for cuts with the least amount of visible fat.
When experimenting with fresh fruit and vegetables, you don’t have to load the whole fresh produce aisle into your trolley. Stick to three or four favourites that you really enjoy and buy in season – this will be more cost effective.
4. Question your relationship with alcohol
For many of us, food and booze go hand in hand. What’s the point of enjoying that steak without the red wine? And rightly so, but if you find yourself overindulging several times a week, you might want to do some tough questioning. Not only does regular drinking add unnecessary empty kilojoules to your daily intake, but it can affect your concentration, mood, productivity and vital body functions in several ways.
The American Heart Association defines moderation as enjoying one or two alcoholic drinks for men and one drink per day for women. This translates to one small glass (125ml) of wine, one can of beer (340 ml) or 25ml of spirits (containing 40% alcohol per volume), even though studies suggest that even moderate drinking can increase your risk for cancer.
Is it time to question your drinking habits? This article explains alcohol addiction in more detail, and provides tips on how to “lighten” your drinks.
5. Cancer can still happen – but diet can help
The harsh truth is, even the healthiest people can be diagnosed with cancer. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But a balanced diet can lessen the load.
Eating a nutritionally balanced high-quality diet may lower a cancer patient's risk of dying by as much as 65%, according to new research on the Health24 website.
Every cancer patient’s needs differ and there is no simple way to establish what is good for you. It is often assumed that a registered dietitian simply helps when you need to lose weight. However, their role in the management of disease can also be invaluable.
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