In Canada, it is estimated that 113,000 men and 107,400 women will be diagnosed with cancer in 2019 alone. Those are some pretty scary numbers, and an even scarier reality for those given the diagnosis.
Do you ever wonder if there are ways you can protect yourself? Luckily, nutrition can play a pretty significant role in cancer prevention!Let’s start with the basics: what is cancer?
Cancer happens when our cells don’t follow the directions they’ve been given. Usually, our cells will grow, divide, and die as instructed. However, when a cell doesn’t follow instructions, they may continue to grow too much, or not die when they are supposed to. This can result in cancerous cells.
While the likelihood of us developing cancer in our lifetime can be dependent on genetics and family history, there are preventative measures that can reduce your risk (you can learn more about this and the study of epigenetics here).
In fact, this can also be said for many other diseases as well. Let’s look at it as a light switch: you may have the switch (the genes) for a certain disease, like forms of cancer, but it’s up to you to turn the switch on or keep it off.
As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, I look at multiple avenues for cancer prevention, including food, fitness, and environmental factors.
First, what is the role of nutrition in cancer prevention?
Taking a proactive approach to cancer by altering diets can be life changing (literally!). By doing this, we keep from turning on that light switch to begin with. Here are four ways that you can do this:
1. Remove refined sugars.
I can’t stress this enough. If there is one food that I wish was banned, it would be refined sugar and it’s alternatives. This means almost anything ending in the word -ose, or a form of “syrup” (aside from 100% per maple syrup). Refined sugar is extremely inflammatory, and chronic inflammation can be a precursor to developing cancerous cells.
2. Avoid processed foods.
Similar to refined sugars, processed foods can cause chronic inflammation. Along with refined sugar, processed foods can include various other inflammatory ingredients such as:
- Canola oil
- Re-used and rancid oils (think deep fried foods)
3. Increase antioxidants
You’ve heard this one time and time again: antioxidants are extremely important for cancer prevention! This means putting plants first on your plate, followed by a protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates. Bright coloured fruits and vegetables are known for their high antioxidant content, containing high levels of vitamins A, C and E. It is also important for us to consume minerals zinc and selenium to round out the antioxidant profile.
4. Reach for inflammation fighting foods.
I wish I could say that simply removing inflammatory foods from your diet can reduce chronic inflammation in the body. However, I’m about to paint a somewhat bleak picture here.
Each day, we’re exposed to numerous environmental factors that increase our toxic load: city living, body care products, makeup, perfume, deodorant, cleaning products, plastic-covered-everything.
This is why it’s important to not only reduce your toxic load by supporting your liver, but also add inflammation-fighting foods to your diet. This includes:
- Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like wild-caught fatty fish, walnuts and flax oil
- Immune boosting foods like raw garlic, raw and unpasteurized honey
- Fermented foods which help to balance our gut microbiome
- Olive oil
- Fruits and veggies (organic when possible)
Environmental factors that can increase your risk of cancer
1. Beauty products
With the rise in the self-care movement, face masks, nail polish, and beauty products are pretty widely used. However, I encourage you to read your labels and check out the ingredient list before you make your next purchase. Try to avoid the following ingredients:
- Parabens (many products will outwardly state that they are “paraben-free”)
- Fragrance or Parfum
- SLES, SLS, ALS
- Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
You can this list and their alternative names at Clean Beauty Box.
2. Cleaning supplies
Countertops, bathtubs, dishes, ovens. Some of the places that we touch, where our food touches, come into contact with cleaning chemicals each day. Along with that, we generally don’t think to use gloves or masks when spraying our mirrors with Windex, or shower tile with CLR. But you are also touching and breathing in these fumes as you clean, exposing yourself to these chemicals for a long period of time.
Plastics are called “endocrine disruptors”. This means that they can mess with your hormones and cause imbalances. These imbalances can lead to hormone-related cancers, among other issues.
What to remember:
- Use a wooden cutting board and wooden or metal cooking utensils
- Carry a glass, ceramic or metal container for drinks (especially hot ones!)
- Try to use glass food containers more often than plastic
If cancer runs in your family, it is important to get regular check-ups and screenings to catch it in the early stages. Working with your GP, a naturopathic doctor, and/or a nutritionist can be helpful to reduce your risk of cancer and propose alternative reactive measures should you be diagnosed.