ANN/THE STAR – What’s more important to our overall health? The individual nutrients we consume, or the types of food we eat? Sounds like a trick question to me.
Our bodies require certain nutrients essential for health. And we get those nutrients in food, right?
Still, rather than focussing on isolated vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, experts now tell us to pay attention to our whole diet, how much and how frequently we eat certain types of food.
And that’s especially important when it comes to curbing our risk for cancer.
We know that about five per cent to 10 per cent of all cancers are inherited through our genetics.
Yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 40 per cent of all cancers could be prevented with adequate exercise, a healthful diet and no tobacco use. Experts tell us the best diet to lower cancer risk is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (like beans) and lentils (like split peas).
In other words, a diet rich in plant foods.
Animal-based products can also be included in this balance.
Evidence is pretty strong that a high intake of processed meats such as hot dogs and other meats that are salted, cured or smoked, can increase one’s risk for colon cancer.
Keep these foods to a minimum, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
Excessive intake of red meat (more than about three servings a week) has also been implicated as a risk for colon cancer.
Since meat is an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc and other essential nutrients, cancer experts don’t discourage it in moderate amounts. They do recommend we balance our meat intake with other protein sources such as beans and seafood.
Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese may actually offer some protection against colon cancer, according to a review article on this topic in Today’s Dietitian.
Calcium in these foods appears to guard the intestinal tract from cancer-promoting substances, said researchers.
What about tea and coffee? Yay, both of these widely-consumed beverages contain anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent certain types of cancer.
Lastly, it’s not always what we eat, but how much.
Weight gain that leads to obesity is a significant risk factor for breast cancer in older women.
Conversely, even a modest weight loss of 2.3 to 4.5 kilogrammes (that is not gained back), may significantly lower a woman’s risk for breast cancer, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.