Fork over the red meat and ladle up on fruits, veggies and water to prevent the disease from taking over your life
Making smart food choices can help keep us in good health, but most important, can boost our ability to ward off cancer.
In India, cancer rates seem to be lower than in the West. One of the theories is that plant-based diets – which are common in India — are rich in nutrients that boost the immune system and help protect against cancer. Including a variety of vegetables, fruits, soy, nuts, whole grains, and beans can help lower the risk for many types of cancer as they are the best sources of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium, which are disease fighters.
The bad news though is that the diet of the average Indian is changing. The consumption of non-vegetarian food, for instance, especially red meat, has increased significantly in recent years in Punjab. Add to this the fact that the consumption of spicy foods and sugary beverages – which are increasingly and unfortunately becoming the staple in most Indian meals – is linked with several types of cancer such as oesophageal cancer. Tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption – again, on the rise in India — are now being linked to cancers of the head and neck, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, and liver.
Increasing urbanization, consumption of fast foods and lack of exercise is increasing obesity levels in India. The prevalence of obesity was found to be 14.8 per cent in adolescent girls, revealed a recent study conducted by Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana. But more startling was the fact that the study found heredity played no role in the obesity.
The indiscriminate use of pesticides is also being linked to the alarmingly high incidence of cancer in Punjab and has a major role to play in our diet. Many reports in the media highlighted how Punjab, is in the throes of cancer. Punjab has over 90 cancer patients per 1 lakh population. This is much higher than the national average of 80 per lakh. The Malwa region, also known as the “cancer belt”, has the highest average of 136 cancer patients per 1lakh of population. At least 18 people die of cancer each day in Punjab. To pin-point a single cause as cancer is caused by multiple factors is difficult. A multi-pronged strategy is much more efficient.
Limiting alcohol, a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding smoking can reduce the chances of cancer. To best support our health, look at our eating habits. We may be eating many foods that fuel cancer, while neglecting the powerful foods and nutrients that can protect us.
The American Institute of Cancer Research has urged the western population to follow the New American plate — meals made up of 2/3 or more vegetables, fruits whole grains or beans and 1/3 or less lean animal protein, which is what the traditional Indian plate used to look like — to decrease the alarming rise in incidence of cancer. The consumption of dietary fibre (in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) reduces the risk of colon cancer, breast and prostate cancer by absorbing and inactivating dietary estrogenic and androgenic cancer promoters.
For healthier meat choices, you don’t need to cut out meat completely. Most people consume far more meat than is healthy. Try to keep the total amount of meat in your diet to no more than 15 per cent of your total calories. Red meat is high in saturated fat, so eat it sparingly.
It is also suggested that one use moderate amounts of healthy oils, herbs, spices, citrus, and vinegars to add flavour.
Water is essential for fighting cancer. It stimulates the immune system, removes waste and toxins, and transports nutrients to all of your organs.
Limit your consumption of salt. An intake of more than 2.4g sodium a day increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Cancer-prevention efforts like diet and lifestyle changes can have enormous benefits for India. Indians have one of the most interesting diets, so let’s make it one of the healthiest as well.
THE BIG FIGHTERS
Citrus fruits and vegetables: They contain micronutrients such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C which have a protective influence in cancer of the lung and stomach.
Non-starchy vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and beans, can help protect against stomach and esophageal cancer.
High-fibre diet: It may help prevent colorectal cancer and other common digestive system cancers, including stomach, mouth, and pharynx. There is no fibre in meat, dairy, sugar, or white bread, white rice, and pastries.
Carotenoid-rich veggies: Carrots and sprouts can reduce the risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers.
Lycopene-rich foods: Tomatoes, guava, and watermelon may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Turmeric: It is increasingly being touted as the wonder ‘drug’ in the fight against cancer.
Soy products: They are being researched in the fight against breast cancer.
The writer is a former biologist at School of Horticulture, University of Hawkesbury, Richmond, CSIRO, North Ryde, and Sydney, Australia