Nutrition and Cancer: Food Risks

There are many differing opinions about the role of nutrition and cancer. Many specialists and doctors agree that a diet consisting of nutritious, healthy and natural foods are best. Other doctors say that the ‘what’ does not matter as much as the calorie intake. When dealing with diet, it is different for every human and every cancer diagnosis. Some people have no issue with food and getting nutrition, while other people struggle to manage enough calories per day and end up on tube feeds for the duration of their treatment.

Nutrition is critically important for those fighting for their lives against cancer. Malnutrition is also a serious problem for people with cancer. One study found that out of two-thousand people with cancer, ninety-one percent of those people had nutritional impairment; which means they were not getting enough daily caloric intake. Nine percent of these people were overly malnourished and required tube feeding. Forty-three percent more were at a greater risk for malnutrition and of those, forty percent more suffered constant loss of appetite (Stengler).

Did you know that the food you eat has the capability to communicate with your cellular DNA? It’s true. There have been multiple studies done in recent years proving that when patients eat whole, healthy foods, their bodies are more receptive to treatments and medications. These bodies also recover faster from procedures and surgeries. Today, the American Institute for Cancer Research completes further testing regularly on the importance and need for a healthy diet. They have compiled lists of foods which can increase or decrease your cancer risk, help to ease the symptoms of treatment, and become healthy and whole once more.

This list was compiled as the things related to nutrition that increase your risk of cancer:

  • Any food preserved by salting increase the risk of stomach cancers.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of cancer in many areas of the body. The bowel, breast, liver, pharynx, larynx, mouth, esophagus and mouth.
  • A South American herbal tea called ‘Mate’ increases the risk of esophagus cancer through a metal straw.
  • Any type of salted fish, such as the Cantonese-style filet, increases the risk of cancer in the nasopharynx.
  • Processed meat increases the risk of cancer of the bowel and stomach. This includes bacon, salami, and ham.
  • Red meats increase the risk of cancer in the stomach and bowel. Types of this meat include beef, pork, lamb, and goat.
  • A high glycemic load of ingested foods increases your risk for cancer in the body, and more so for a woman regarding endometrium cancer.
  • Aflatoxins increase the risk of cancer in the liver. This is generally an issue in warmer climates in warmer regions of the world. This may include spices, peanuts, chilies, certain nuts, dried fruits, and figs.

These things have proven to decrease your risk of developing cancer nutritionally.

  • Fruit decreases the risk of cancer of the lung, mouth and pharynx and larynx.
  • Non-starchy vegetables decrease the risk of cancer throughout the body. Examples of these vegetables are broccoli, cabbage, spinach, kale, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, leek, rutabaga, and turnips.
  • High fiber foods help decrease cancers of the bowel and help to regulate your excrement system. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, dried legumes, some cereals, pasta, rice, and bread are all high fiber foods.
  • Whole grains decrease the risk of cancer in the bowel. An example of whole grain would be bread, oats or brown rice.
  • Coffee decreases the chance of liver in the liver and endometrium.
  • Alcohol can actually decrease the chance of cancer in your kidney, however, has only shown proven results for those who consume two or more alcoholic beverages per day.

After years of research and hundreds of studies being done, scientists and doctors have determined the following general guidelines about nutrition during cancer treatment:

  • Avoid high-calorie foods and sugary drinks.
  • Enjoy more vegetables, fruit, beans, and grains.
  • For cancer prevention, don’t drink alcohol.
  • Avoid processed meat and limit intake of red meat. When eaten, eat no more than five-hundred grams a week.
  • Eat using less salt. Aim for less than 2,400mg of sodium per day. You can do this by eating less processed foods and avoiding adding extra salt to meals.
  • Avoid eating moldy food and grains. These molds can carry the aflatoxin spores.

While many of these studies focused on the general diet, certain studies focused on specific types of cancer are affected by healthier eating. Here are tips for the best nutrition possible for specific types of cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

  • Whole grains help to decrease cancer risk.
  • Red meat increases the risk of colon cancer.
  • Processed meats intake has been linked to accelerated colon cancer.
  • High fiber foods decrease cancer risk.

Breast Cancer

  • Alcoholic drinks increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Eat more fiber.
  • If you can tolerate soy, give it a try.
  • Lower your total intake of fat, specifically saturated fat.

Esophageal Cancer

  • Avoid scalding teas, especially Mate.
  • Alcoholic beverages increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.

Stomach Cancer

  • Three or more alcoholic beverages increase the risk of stomach cancers.
  • Processed meats are linked to non-cardia cancer.

Bladder Cancer

  • Drinking water containing arsenic greatly increases the risks of stomach cancers.

Liver Cancer

  • Three or more alcoholic beverages per day may cause liver cancer.
  • Drinking coffee daily has been linked to a decreased risk of liver cancer.
  • Foods containing aflatoxins can cause liver cancer. These toxins were previously mentioned and can affect many types of food.

Prostate Cancer

  • Increase your intake of foods with lycopene and selenium.
  • High calcium diets can increase your risk of prostate cancer.
  • Legumes do not necessarily decrease your future risk, as reported in certain studies.

Cervical Cancer

  • Eating carrots lowers the risk of developing this cancer.

Lung Cancer

  • If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do is quit.
  • Also, eating fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce your risk of developing this cancer.

Thyroid Cancer

  • -Increasing vegetable intake decreases the risk of thyroid cancer in the future.
  • -Eating fish where iodine issues exist have reportedly decreased overall cancer risk.

Testis Cancer

  • Consuming milk and dairy products show an increase of testicular cancers.

Lymphoid and Hemopoietic Cancers

  • Meat and red meat are linked to an increased rate of developing this cancer.
  • Alcohol is shown to reduce the risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
  • Dairy and milk consumption increases general cancer risk.
  • Increasing vegetable and fruit intake showed a reduced rate of cancer development.

In all cases, doctors and specialists discuss how a plant-based diet is often the most beneficial for the human fighting the cancer battle. This type of diet exposes the person to phytochemicals which have the capability to do the following things inside of the body:

  • Prevent DNA cell and body damage and helps with DNA repair
  • Stimulates the immune system to work more functionally
  • Blocks substances we ingest from becoming lingering carcinogens
  • Reduce the kind of inflammation that invites cancer to grow rapidly
  • Reduces the oxidative damage to cells that can trigger cancer cells to grow
  • Slows the rate of cancer growth
  • Tells damaged cells in the body to destroy themselves before they become hazardous or cancerous
  • Helps to regulate hormones

If you are going through cancer treatments and feel that your nutrition is suffering, do not hesitate to contact your doctor and medical care team for assistance. Many times, meeting with a nutritionist who can help you plan a diet that would be beneficial for your healing can be done as part of your cancer treatment aftercare. When you can, choose the foods that will benefit your body and life the most. When you are struggling to keep any calories in, consider smoothies, blended meals and lighter, thinner options. Where there is a will, there is a way.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

Resources Used:

Stengler (book)


Cancer Society


Reclaiming Intimacy

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