For About and By Caregivers
Cancer Prevention on a Plate

By Nancy Spaulding-Albright RD, CNSD, LD/N


As care providers, it is very easy to put your health last. Unfortunately, this might catch up to you through some sort of medical problem of your own and then the home situation can become even more complex. There are many diseases we have no way of avoiding, so it is important to be pro-active in reducing our risk for the preventable ones. The current statistic is that up to 60-70 percent of cancers could be prevented with the right dietary and lifestyle habits. Behavioral factors such as cigarette smoking, dietary choices and physical activity affect the risk of cancer at all stages of its development. In the famous words of Pamela Peeke MD, MPH “Genetics may load the gun but environment pulls the trigger.”

Everyone should be familiar with the National 5 A Day for Better Health Program from the National Cancer Institute to increase our intake of fruits and vegetables. Many health professionals believe it would be even more protective if our intake went up to nine-plus servings. Often, people believe they could never eat that much produce but they may not realize what a portion size is considered. When it comes to vegetables it is one-half cup cooked, one cup raw or six ounces of vegetable juice. For fruit, it is one small piece of fresh fruit, one-half cup canned/chopped or six ounces of juice.

If you can reduce your risk by 30-40 percent just by eating five servings of delicious fruits and vegetables a day, wouldn’t you want to? Another side benefit is that people find they lose weight when they consume a more plant-based diet. The increased fiber and fluid content of these foods, fills you up with fewer calories. Such a deal!

Now a word on Phytonutrients

Every day, new evidence supports the idea of including plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant based proteins in our daily diet. Besides contributing vitamins, minerals and fiber, these plant foods also contain phytonutrients, naturally-occurring plant chemicals that promote wellness and decrease the risk of many diseases. “Phyto” means plant in Greek. Call them the vitamins and minerals of the new millennium if you will. Let’s look a few…

  • Cruciferous Family (Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts) – Sulforaphane and Brassinin has shown to boost the body’s ability to defuse potential carcinogens and Indoles which may reduce the production of estrogen or change existing estrogen to the least harmless.

  • Chili Peppers – Capsaicin- May block DNA from carcinogens, natural decongestant, expectorant, blood thinner and may lower cholesterol. Rates of stomach cancers are especially low in populations that consume a lot of peppers.

  • Garlic and onions – Allicin and Diallyl Disulphide - Lowers cholesterol, thins blood, reduces blood pressure and has anti-viral/bacterial properties. Eat as much as you feel comfortable with. Garlic is so popular it has a hotline, 800-330-5922! Garlic pills can act as a blood thinner so use them smartly if you are taking other medications or supplements that have the same effect such as aspirin, coumadin or vitamin E.

  • Legumes – Contain various phytochemicals and protease inhibitors which may help prevent cancer. Soybeans would fall into this group as well with their isoflavones, daidzein and genestein. Reduce your risk of cancer by eating lower on the food chain!

  • Spinach and other leafy greens – Contain Glutathione, Lutein, Zeaxanthin which can help reduce risk of lung cancer, macular degeneration and contribute to an enzyme needed for strong immune function.

  • Grapes – Contain Resveratrol, Quercetin, anthocyanin and catechin, all exhibit anti-oxidant properties. Resveratrol also appears to inhibit tumor growth at various stages in the cancer process. Red grapes and red wine appear to be somewhat better than the white versions as far as flavanoid content. Purple grape juice and grapes work well too if you abstain from alcohol.

  • Tomatoes – Rich in the carotenoid, Lycopene. Cooking tomatoes with a little dietary fat such as olive oil, improves the absorption of Lycopene. It appears to reduce the risk of colon, prostate, bladder and possibly breast cancers.

  • Tea – Polyphenols, Catechins and Flavanoids in green and black versions appear to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke. A compound called epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG) found in tea appears to block an enzyme needed for cancer cell growth.

These foods and many more deserve a newfound respect for the health benefits they can provide. Taking numerous dietary supplements is not the key to disease prevention but learning to put your fork in the right foods just may be.

The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer Prevention are as follows:

Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources

  • Limit your intake of high fat foods, particularly from animal sources

  • Be physically active: achieve and maintain a healthy weight

  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages if you drink at all

(Other risks such as smoking, sun exposure, occupational carcinogens etc. are not specifically nutrition-related so they are not addressed in these guidelines.)

Reliable Cancer and Nutrition Resources
American Cancer Society 800-227-2345

American Institute for Cancer Research

American Dietetic Association Consumer Hotline

National Cancer Institute

Oncolink (University of Pennsylvania)

Nancy Spaulding-Albright RD, CNSD, LD/N is a nutritionist practicing in Eustis Florida.


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