Fight cancer naturally with a healthy diet
It seems like someone in the public eye is always being diagnosed with cancer and last week it was revealed that former Loose Women star Lynda Bellingham was terminally ill with bowel cancer. There are many different types of cancer – amongst the most commonly diagnosed are breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancer. In 2011, 331,487 people in the UK were diagnosed with some form of cancer.
Cancer can be caused by age, carcinogens (such as cigarette smoke), genetic make-up or other factors such as the environment, your overall diet and health, the immune system and even viruses, such as the human pappiloma virus (HPV).
The good news is that there are changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle right now that can help to prevent cancer – for example, antioxidant-rich foods can help your body's cells to function optimally, which could help prevent mutation into cancer cells. We take a look at some of the foods you should be filling your face with to protect yourself from cancer.
Increase your intake of plant-based foods
Plant-based foods; fruit, vegetables and whole grains, contain more fibre and cancer fighting nutrients (and less fat) than other foods. Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables boosts your immune system and overall health. Of course, many of these foods are also packed with antioxidants and good fats.
The less processed your food is, the better, and there's plenty to be said for including more raw food in your diet, like these raw banana bread breakfast bars! When planning your meals, aim for a plate that's filled with two-thirds fruit, vegetables, beans or whole grains. Protein (from meat or other sources), fish and dairy products should only take up one-third.
Try these tips to include more unprocessed, plant-based foods in your diet:
- Snack on fresh fruit and vegetables – try our raw energy bite recipes, dip vegetables into hummus or guacamole or make a fruit smoothie
- Include plenty of vegetables with your main meal
- Add dried or fresh fruit, nuts and seeds to oatmeal, granola or Greek yogurt for a healthy breakfast
Eat less meat
Did you know that vegetarians and vegans are around 50% less likely to develop cancer than those who regularly include meat in their diet? That's because meat often has high levels of saturated fat and lacks fibre. It can also develop carcinogenic compounds, depending on how it's prepared.
But there's no need to cut meat out of your life completely if you're a hard-core carnivore. You can slash your risk of cancer by choosing healthier meats and cutting down your overall consumption. Here are some tips for reducing the amount of meat you eat:
- Eat red meat only occasionally – it's a great source of iron and protein, but it is high in saturated fat. Try including leafy greens such as kale and cabbage, broccoli, almond and cashew nuts and pulses, such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils in your diet; these are all good sources of protein
- Reduce your meat portion size – it should fit in the palm of your hand
- Bulk up your main meal with plant-based sources of protein such as beans, lentils, nuts or quinoa
- Steer clear of processed meats such as bacon, salami and hotdogs
- Opt for lean, organic chicken and turkey – try some of our creative chicken recipes
Eat more good fats
When you cut down on meat, you'll be reducing the amount of unhealthy, saturated fat in your diet, and cutting your risk of developing some types of cancer. But there are other, good fats out there that can actually protect against cancer and keep you healthy.
Unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil are good for heart health. Avocados are a great source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, or 'good fats;, which fight inflammation. Other good sources of healthy fats include oily fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel and flaxseeds. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help support heart and brain health.
Try to add nuts and seeds to granola, soups and salads. Healthy fats can be found in walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds – nuts are also a great source of selenium which can boost your mood. Eating fish at least once a week can help to protect against cancer.
Choose cancer-fighting superfoods
It's your immune system's job to fight off invaders that can cause illness, including cancer cells. Cancer-fighting foods and foods which maximise the strength of your immune system can be included as part of a healthy diet and exercise plan. Always ensure you eat a colourful variety of fruit and vegetables – these tips will help you:
- Choose antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants can help protect against cancer – fresh fruit and vegetables are by far the best source. For example, carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A (beta-carotene) and nuts are a great source of selenium
- Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are packed with phytochemicals which fight disease and boost your immune system. Include as colourful a variety as you can – different colours contain different phytochemicals
- Use foods and spices which boost your immune system to flavour your meals, such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, basil, coriander and curry powder. A great excuse to whip up a batch of fresh pesto or a Thai curry
Increase your fibre intake
Eating more plant-based foods will automatically increase your fibre intake. Fibre isn't digested by the body, but it is used to keep your digestive system functioning properly – it helps food to move through the digestive tract. It can also help to eliminate compounds which could cause cancer.
Natural, unprocessed food contains the most fibre. Meat, sugar, dairy products and refined white foods such as cakes, white rice and white bread contain no fibre. Adding more fibre to your diet is easy; just follow our tips:
- Swap white bread for whole-grain
- Enjoy a baked sweet potato or regular potato (skin on) instead of mash
- Snack on peppers, celery and carrots with hummus or guacamole
- Make blueberry spelt muffins or bran muffins instead of reaching for cakes or pastry
- Opt for brown rice and pasta over white
- Substitute beans for minced meat in chilli and burgers – bean burgers are a great source of fibre. Or add kidney beans to your chilli or rice for a protein and fibre boost.
Getting regular exercise - try a rock climbing class, go for a run or hit the gym - and eating a healthy diet can go a long way towards protecting you against many types of cancer. Start today; change your diet and your lifestyle for a healthier future.
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