Pink abounds in October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States.
This month, LSU AgCenter nutritionists are promoting a healthful diet that can help prevent breast cancer and other forms of the disease.
Cancer cell initiation
Nutritionist Heli Roy says there is an initiation in cells in the body that takes place 15 or 20 years before cancer develops. This initiation can be caused by exposure to sun, medication, too many X-rays or any number of factors.
Roy explains that a person may not get to the point where she has active cancer cells because she lives a healthy life, which prevents cancer from developing and growing.
“Research shows that even if you have initiated cells in your body, if you switch to a healthier diet, it really can impact the development of chronic diseases, like cancer, later in life,” Roy said.
Limit bad fats
The amount and type of dietary fat one consumes is important for cancer prevention.
“Reducing saturated fat, eliminating trans fats and eating a diet like a Mediterranean diet, which has more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help prevent cancer,” Roy said.
A Mediterranean-style diet would include olive oil, a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and seafood.
Roy says you can reduce saturated fat intake by switching from full-fat dairy products to skim milk or low-fat cheeses. She also suggests limiting consumption of red meat, processed meat and chicken with the skin on.
How foods are prepared also can increase your risk of cancer, according to Roy. Baking or sautéing meats are preferable to grilling.
“Proteins change structure when you cook them over the grill,” she said.
If you do intend to grill, she says to first marinate the meat in a citrus or tomato-based marinade, which can add protective agents to the meat.
“It’s OK to brown it, but you don’t want to char it,” she said. “I know some people like that, but that is the part that has those harmful chemicals.”
The next step to eating a cancer prevention diet is to include plenty of fruits and vegetables – at least five servings a day.
“You can accomplish this by including them in every meal and at snacks,” said AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
She also suggests making some meals meatless. “That will increase your vegetable intake and is recommended by the American Cancer Society.”
Fruits and vegetables, particularly colorful ones such as berries, citrus, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and greens, contain antioxidants that actually prevent cancer cell growth and development.
“Antioxidants prevent harmful changes to your DNA,” Roy said. “Those harmful changes in DNA lead to cancer development.”
Cells duplicate, she explains, and antioxidants help new cells retain their health.
In Louisiana, we have an abundance of healthful, local foods, which include fruits and vegetables and seafood, which is high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Roy says to help maintain the foods’ good properties, prepare them healthfully.
“What we do in Louisiana is we take a really good product and then fry it, rather than cook it in a healthy way,” Roy said.
Instead, bake or sauté it, she says.
Including whole grains in your diet, which have healthy endosperms, also can protect against cancer.
Herbs, spices, garlic and onions also have chemo-preventative agents, according to Roy. The Mediterranean diet is infused with herbs, and using them in your foods can increase your diets cancer prevention potential.
Beverages also can help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer. “Consuming tea, coffee and cocoa is good for you,” Roy said. Tea and cocoa contain healthful antioxidants, she explains, and a cup or two of coffee a day can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
A final step to help prevent cancer development is maintaining a healthy weight. Eating the diet the nutritionists prescribe will help with the goal, but Reames says you also need to be physically active.
“Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week,” Reames said.
The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from student tuition and fee increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.
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