We hear it all the time - eat more fruits and vegetables! And, if we could follow that advice, we would lose weight.
I don't know of anyone who got fat eating too many fruits and vegetables. But, there are so many reasons to eat more fruit and vegetables than looking like Cameron Diaz.
How about preventing cancer? Cancer research has been showing that eating more fruits and vegetables can reduce your chance of cancer. This data really makes sense when you think about colon cancer - where the "rubber meets the road" so to speak.
I was fortunate enough to meet Alice Bender, MS, RD, who works for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) which is focused on the link between diet and cancer.
Their research indicates that about a third of cancer cases can be prevented though healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Powerful, yes?
Here is my interview with Alice:
SnackGirl: What role can food play in cancer prevention?
Alice Bender, RD: The food we put on our plates every day affect our risk for many common cancers. No food by itself can prevent cancer, but research clearly shows that if Americans would eat more plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and nuts, with moderate amounts of animal foods, we would have fewer cancer cases.
Too much red meat and processed meat increase risk for colorectal cancer, so more veggies, less red meat helps lower risk for one of the most common cancers in the U.S. In addition to the protective substances from plant foods, this way of eating is more likely to help people get to and keep a healthy weight which helps keep cancer risk low.
SnackGirl: Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, can a change in diet help you fight it?
Alice Bender, RD: Absolutely. Survivors benefit greatly from a healthy diet and registered dietitians with experience in oncology are vital to helping survivors navigate food and nutrition needs both during and after treatment.
Radiation and chemotherapy can affect your nutrient needs and your appetite and taste, so sometimes it’s tough to eat enough to keep your weight up. In some cases, people may gain unwanted weight during treatment, and that can be distressing too.
Most cancer centers have RDs on staff and they are part of the treatment team, but if you are in treatment and haven't met with a dietitian, you may need to ask.
SnackGirl: What are some examples of cancer fighting foods and what are some easy ways to incorporate them into your diet?
Alice Bender, RD: Let's start with broccoli and cruciferous vegetables. These veggies contain fiber, folate, carotenoids (including beta-carotene) and vitamin C –AICR’s expert report and its updates found that foods containing all these substances lower risk for a number of cancers.
Cruciferous veggies are also rich in the phytochemical family of glucosinolates, that break down into cancer-fighting compounds. To maintain all these great compounds, cook lightly – steam, microwave, stir-fry or sauté; many can also be added to soups and stews. We’ve got some great recipes on our website – one of my favorites is roasted Brussels sprouts.
Cranberries are abundant this time of year, but including them in your menus year round is a good idea too. Fruits are linked to lower risk for oral, lung and stomach cancers, and cranberries are one of many foods containing fiber that protect against colorectal cancer.
Cranberries’ red color comes from their anthocyanins; in cell studies these pigments decrease cancer cells’ growth and even stimulate some cancer cells to self-destruct. How to get more in your diet?
Try fresh cranberries in a couscous or other whole-grain dish with dried apricots and nuts, put them in fruit salads or mix into muffins or other quick breads. Dried cranberries are great in oatmeal, yogurt or mixed into vegetable salads.
SnackGirl: Why would carrying excess body fat increase your risk of cancer?
Alice Bender, RD: Body fat is a metabolically active organ. Fat cells produce estrogen, which promotes cell growth.
They also produce proteins that cause inflammation and insulin resistance, which in turn promote cell growth and cell reproduction.
So people with excess body fat have high levels of substances circulating in their blood that stimulate cell division. The more often cells divide, the more opportunity there is for cancer to develop.
SnackGirl: What is your favorite snack?
Alice Bender, RD: My go to snack is seasonal fruit. I especially love the summer fruits; there is nothing like that first succulent red ripe strawberry or juicy peach of the season. When I need something a little more substantial, I’ll add a spoonful of peanut butter.
Check out AICR's great list of foods that fight cancer.
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