The World's Best Anti-Cancer Diet
By Sandra Gordon
In your quest to reduce your cancer risk, don't overlook the obvious: Improving your diet can play a substantial role in preventing the disease.
"Food offers a formidable team of antioxidants and phytochemicals [plant chemicals] that help counteract the cellular processes in the body that can lead to cancer," says Steven Jonas, M.D., professor of preventive medicine at the State University of New York-Stony Brook and co-author of "The 30 Secrets of the World's Healthiest Cuisines." "But the typical American diet is meat-centered and focused on fast food, a profile that doesn't offer much cancer protection."
To cancer-proof your diet, take notes from abroad. "Research suggests we can benefit by importing the best eating habits from countries that report lower rates of nutrition-related diseases like cancer," says Dr. Jonas.
He offers the following suggestions.
Choose plant power
Eating a variety of plant-based foods -- fruits and vegetables -- is the number one rule for cancer prevention because such foods offer a cornucopia of antioxidants and phytochemicals that help make your cells less susceptible to cancer.
Need proof? "In rural China, the incidences of breast, colon and rectal cancers are fractions of the rates reported in the U.S.," says Dr. Jonas. "There, vegetables are revered and eaten in much greater quantities than meat."
The American Cancer Society recommends five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but the average American falls far short of that. To add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, you don't have to eat Chinese stir-fry every night. Instead, "just import the Chinese way," says Dr. Jonas. "Sneak fruit and vegetables into foods you already eat."
Add mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, onions and carrots to pasta sauce, meatloaf, soup, stew and chili. Meanwhile, use meat in smaller, condiment-size quantities. "Consider meat a flavoring agent," says Dr. Jonas.
Add Mediterranean flavors
Studies show that aromatics, such as rosemary, garlic and parsley, do more than add zest to foods. "They contain antioxidants that have potent cancer-fighting properties," says Dr. Jonas. In Mediterranean countries, he explains, the incidence rates for all forms of cancer are, in some cases, nearly 50 percent less than in the United States.
Parsley, in particular, is used in large quantity in Mediterranean salads and sauces. "It's packed with vitamin C and beta carotene, which have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer," says Dr. Jonas.
"Rosemary and garlic are believed to boost your body's arsenal of detoxifying enzymes that help break down the cancer-causing chemicals you're exposed to, such as secondhand smoke," says Dr. Jonas.
The Mediterranean people's generous use of olive oil also contributes to their healthfulness.
"It's a tradition worth importing," says Dr. Jonas. "There has been abundant scientific evidence in recent years showing that people who consume three or more servings of whole grains per day have a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, digestive disorders and possibly some forms of cancer."
Recent studies show fiber may not be the colon-cancer fighter it was once thought to be -- if you already have cancerous polyps. But, in general, it's a good idea to consume 20 grams to 35 grams of fiber per day, as recommended by the National Cancer Institute. To do so, eat more fruits and vegetables (with the skin, if possible) and increase your intake of beans and whole-grain breads and cereals.
"To choose a healthful whole-grain bread or cereal product, look for 2 or more grams of fiber per serving," says Dr. Jonas.
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