Is there anyone left in the world who hasn't been affected or known someone affected by cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute, 40.8 percent of the population will develop some type of cancer over their lifespan. Some types are worse than others, but statistics indicate that on any given day there are 13 million people in this country living with some form of the disease.
A cancer diagnosis can be terrifying, and often is a life-defining moment. I remember the anxiety, emotions and countless questions my family experienced the day my mother received her diagnosis. I believe she would still be alive today had she understood the importance of diet, exercise and not smoking. But hindsight is always 20/20.
Recent reports suggest that 35 percent, or roughly 1 out of 3 cancers are avoidable through diet and lifestyle changes. Positive changes can dramatically decrease one's chances of contracting the disease, but there is no guarantee ,which is why most tend to ignore scientific reasoning.
For example, the most common cause of cancer death in this country is due to lung cancer. People who smoke make up 90 percent of lung cancer patient, yet people still smoke. It is safe to assume that if no one smoked then lung cancer would decrease by 90 percent.
In the past, most cancer research has been conducted on the cancer cell growth itself, but more recent research is being done on the environment in which cancer cells grow. Research has discovered that breast cancer recurrence can be cut in half and mortality cut by 2/3 if insulin levels are kept under control. It is doubtful that it is a coincidence that keeping insulin levels in check is also associated with controlling type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and obesity.
I also know that inflammation plays a huge role in cancer growth. If inflammation is reduced, cancer growth is reduced, treatment efficacy is boosted and side effects of treatment are diminished. The truth is, everything we eat changes our body chemistry. Every cell in our body is lined with fats that are essential to life. Those fats are made up of what we have eaten in the past 90 days or so. We literally are what we eat (and what our food ate).
Many people eat foods that help fuel malignancies without even knowing it. When eating a cancer preventative diet, research shows that plant-based foods are the cancer fighting "powerhouses."
Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are full of nutrients that help block malignancies, and their low fat and high fiber content helps to boost your immune system and help with the natural elimination of toxins from your body. Organic fresh fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. Brightly colored foods provide extra protection of diseases through phytochemicals that are immune boosters. The larger the variety of colors the better, because different color vegetables contain different phytochemicals. Flavoring dishes with herbs and spices like garlic, turmeric, basil, coriander, ginger and rosemary add an extra cancer fighting punch to soups, salads and casseroles.
Current statistics show that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop cancer than those who eat meat. This is believed to be primarily due to the high saturated fat content in meat, the low fiber content and overall lack of phytochemicals and other cancer blocking agents that are found in plant-based foods.
Does this mean we should give up meat? Absolutely not, say the experts. Cutting down on portion size, eating red meat only on occasion, and choosing leaner cuts like fish, chicken and turkey are easy ways to cut down on saturated fats. When possible, avoid deli meats such as hotdogs, sausage, salami and other processed lunch meats.
A creative way to cut down on meat is to use it either as a side dish, or as a flavoring to add flavor and texture to beans, stews and sauces. One of the most effective cancer fighting actions is to choose your fats wisely. Remembering that fat is not a bad word, and the key is to balance your fat intake.
The best way to balance fats are to decrease meat, especially red meat, eat meat from organic sources, grass fed, free range and wild caught. Read food labels and do not buy a product if it has trans fat, hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredients. The best-unsaturated fats come from plant sources like organic olive oil, organic canola, organic grape seed oil, nuts and avocados.
Focus on increasing the omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory and found in salmon, tuna and flaxseeds. For those of you who have been following my column, you have probably come to realize by now that there is a common theme to eating healthy: Basic, quality ingredient selection is key in our food choices.
Making repeated bad choices of refined sugars, fast foods, soda, junk foods, trans fats, and saturated fats from the wrong sources can lead us down a path of chronic inflammation which is at the root of every modern day disease, including cancer.
We can drastically decrease our chances of contracting many modern diseases, including cancer, by filling 2/3 of our plates with organic fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and 1/3 with healthy organic grass-fed dairy products, meat and wild caught fish.
Your health is my business...
Rich Patten is a pharmacist in Key West who has spent the past several months studying healthful cooking at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.