Oncology experts from our Community Cancer Center recently conducted an online panel to educate the Cedar Valley about how to prevent cancer. Here are some of the most common questions cancer experts hear.
Q: Does eating soy raise your risk for breast cancer and other cancers?
A: Whole soy foods are safe to eat. A range of soy foods is available to make plant-focused eating habits easy, delicious and nutritious. Current research does not show any reason to steer clear of whole soy foods. Enjoy them as part of a healthy diet; however, there is no reason to consider them must-haves if you prefer not to include them.
Q: Are organic fruits/veggies better to eat? Do they provide extra protection against cancer?
A: Eating mostly plant foods reduces your risk of cancer, but organic foods are not proven better than conventionally grown foods.
- Choose from a variety of fresh, frozen, canned or dried vegetables and fruits.
- Eat at least five servings or 2.5 cups of non-starchy vegetables and fruits every day for cancer protection. If you can, more is even better – aim to eat at least 3.5 cups of vegetables and fruits per day for overall good health.
- Plant foods offer a healthy supply of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, studied for their cancer-fighting actions. Replacing higher calorie foods with nutrient-packed, lower calorie plant foods helps with weight control, another step toward protecting yourself against cancer.
Q: Does drinking coffee cause cancer?
A: According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, coffee does not increase risk of any cancer. In fact, coffee reduces risk of endometrial and liver cancers. Coffee in moderate amounts is linked with lower risk of several chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee itself has essentially no calories, but watch out when adding sugar, syrups and cream. These additions can quickly increase the calories in your drink – sometimes 500 or more calories in one coffee beverage! Select low-calorie coffee options to help reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Q: Is drinking red wine good for me?
A: Alcoholic drinks of any kind, including red wine, increase cancer risk. For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink no more than two standard drinks per day for men and no more than one standard drink per day for women. Alcohol contributes calories and can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess.
Q: Does sugar feed cancer?
A: The bottom line: every cell in our body, including cancer cells, uses sugar (glucose) from our bloodstream for fuel. We get that blood sugar from foods we eat containing carbohydrates, including healthful vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy. Some glucose is even produced within our bodies from protein, but there’s no clear evidence that the sugar in your diet preferentially feeds tumors over other cells. Yet there is a connection between sugar and cancer risk; however, it’s more indirect than many realize. Eating a lot of high-sugar foods may mean more calories in your diet than you need,
which eventually leads to excess body fat. After not smoking, having a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer. It is excess body fat that is convincingly linked to a greater risk of 12 types of cancer.
Q: Is there one food that can prevent cancer?
A: There is no single food or food component that can solely protect you against cancer. There is strong evidence that a diet rich in plant foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans can help lower your risk for cancer. In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals exhibit anti-cancer effects. Despite these findings, evidence has suggested that (for humans) the synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet offers the best cancer protection. Filling two-thirds or more of your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans provides your body with these nutrients.
Q: What does more intense physical activity do for health and cancer prevention?
A: With more intense activities, you raise your heart rate, which improves your fitness, and you burn more calories in the same amount of time, which helps you get to and maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that being physically active decreases risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and endometrial cancer, as well as reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Q: Do you recommend becoming a vegetarian to decrease cancer risk or prevent a recurrence of cancer?
A: It’s not necessary to become a strict vegetarian. However, eating a mostly plant-based diet is the best eating pattern to help prevent cancer and/or a recurrence, based on the most recent science. To get started with a plant-based diet, try American Institute for Cancer Research’s “New American Plate” model, which recommends covering two-thirds or more of your plate with plant-based foods and one-third or less with animal protein. Here is the New American Plate’s healthy eating checklist and meal plan.
Q: Will artificial sweeteners increase my cancer risk?
A: There’s no strong evidence that links artificial sweeteners, such as Saccharin and Aspartame, to cancer. Evidence is unclear whether foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners support weight loss.
Q: Can grilled meats really cause cancer?
A: The evidence from human research on grilled meat as a cause of cancer is strong. Lab studies show that exposing meats to direct flame, smoke and intense heat (like when you grill or broil) can cause the formation of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Cooking methods that involve less heat, such as microwaving, baking, steaming and poaching, do not promote the formation of these substances. Several strategies you can use to cut carcinogen formation on meat include marinating, flipping frequently, removing excess fat from meat before cooking and microwaving for part of the cooking time. However, other mechanisms that are independent of cooking may be responsible for the cancer risk,
including a particular molecule in red meat that causes inflammation and the impact of consuming red meat on the bacteria in the gut. So, for delicious and healthful options, try grilling vegetables, veggie burgers and fruit slices and cut
down on red and processed meat, fish and poultry.
— Source: American Institute for Cancer Research