Over the years, we have been consuming more and more highly processed, “refined” versions of bread, pasta, and rice from which valuable nutrients have been stripped. Today, the average person in the United States eats less than one serving of whole grains a day! That’s a problem because whole grains are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge marauding free radicals— atoms that can damage cells and may accelerate the progression of cancer and other diseases.
Whole grains offer many protective substances for good health, such as plant sterols, lignans, phytates, vitamins, and minerals—especially magnesium. Magnesium is necessary for energy metabolism, blood pressure control, proper nerve functioning and muscle contraction, and healthy bones and teeth. Whole grains are also high in fiber which makes you feel full, stabilizes blood sugar, and binds cholesterol.
Food is one of many areas where it pays to be an educated consumer. When you are shopping, read food labels: Search for whole grains as the first ingredient, not just flour that was tinted with caramel coloring. Many foods that claim to be made with whole grains list it far down on the ingredient list, indicating that the product contains a relatively small amount of whole grain. When the whole grain symbol appears on food packaging, you can be sure that the food is a source of whole grain.
Recommendation: Try to eat at least 3 servings of whole grains every day, rather than other starches. One serving could be: 1 slice whole grain bread • 1/2 cup whole grain pasta or rice • 1 six-¬inch whole wheat tortilla • 1/2 whole wheat bagel or pita • 6 whole wheat crackers.
Dietary Fat and Cancer
More research is needed before specific recommendations for low-fat diets in the management of cancer can be made. But if cancer survivors and their families choose to follow very low-fat regimens (about 20 percent of daily calories from fat), they may ensure that their diets are nutritionally balanced and are adequate in calories to maintain a healthy body weight. Because a fat gram has more than double the calories of a gram of carbohydrate or protein, limiting intake of fat grams helps you maintain a healthy weight. (See Obesity and Cancer Risk later in this session.)
Not all fats are equal:
- There is evidence that certain types of fat—saturated fats—may have a negative effect on cancer. For example, studies have shown that people who decrease their saturated fat intake, lower their risk for breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
- Saturated fats are found in animal proteins: bacon, sausage, cheese, whole milk, and fatty meats. Avoid saturated fats whenever possible.
- Many researches suggest that both saturated fats and omega 6 fats can drive up inflammation, suppress immune function, and promote cancer cell proliferation.
- Omega 6 fats are primarily found in vegetable oil, processed or convenience foods, margarine, commercial baked goods and salad dressings. Trans¬-fats are worse than saturated fats and should be eliminated or very minimally eaten.
- Mono-unsaturated fats and omega 3 fats have been found to behave either neutrally or have positive effects, such as anti-inflammatory effects on the body, and possibly the suppression of tumor cell growth.
- Mono-unsaturated fats are found in olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocado and nuts; while omega 3 fats are found in cold water fish and flax seeds. Therefore, if you want to add small fats in your diet, use these good fats.
Here, too, it is important to read nutrition labels carefully. Some products labeled “low fat” or “reduced fat” may contain almost as much fat as the standard product. When you are reading a food label to see how many grams of fat are in a serving, be sure to check the serving size, which is also stated on the food label.
Recommendation: Cancer survivors should keep their fat intake to about 20 to 25 percent of daily calories, or about 44 to 55 grams of fat per day. Look at the Total Fat Grams on food labels and simply add up the numbers on a daily basis.
When most people think of red meat, beef comes to mind. But pork is also considered a red meat in dietary terms, along with beef and lamb. If you choose to eat red meat, it is best to select lean cuts such as tenderloin, sirloin, round cuts, and center cuts.
Recommendation: Try limiting red meat to less than 3 oz. per day—a portion roughly equal to the size of a deck of cards or a computer mouse, and 1–2x/week.
Low-fat dairy products provide many nutrients that are essential for optimal health, such as calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Studies have also shown that dairy products can have a benefit for the prevention of osteoporosis— a potential long-term effect of some cancer treatments.
Although dairy products have considerable nutritional value, they also can be high in saturated fat and raise the risk for heart disease. So include dairy in your diet, but select low-fat or non-fat dairy products. (i.e.: skim, 1/2 percent, or 1 percent milk).
Note: There are controversies around the relationship between dairy and cancer. Some studies indicate milk increases insulin response and thus, increase insulin growth factor. Insulin growth factor is associated with tumor proliferation. Others feel that growth factors and antibiotics added to the diet of dairy cows may play a role in cancer formation and growth. Since data is conflicting, it might just be wise to limit dairy intake to 1–2 per day and organic if all possible. One of the servings should contain live culture, such as yogurt or kefir. Calcium needs would be met by other high calcium foods (leafy greens, broccoli, canned salmon/sardine with bones), calcium fortified foods, or a calcium supplement.