In observance of April as National Cancer Control Month, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says it’s never too late to begin healthy eating and exercise habits.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one-third of the 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year is due to dietary factors. The ACS says another third is due to cigarette smoking.
"Although genetics is a factor in the development of cancer, factors such as cigarette smoking, dietary choices and physical activity can change the risk of cancer at all stages of its development.," Reames says, noting that studies show the introduction of healthful diet and exercise practices at any time from childhood to old age can promote health and reduce cancer risk.
Many dietary factors can affect cancer risk: types of foods, food preparation methods, portion sizes, food variety and overall caloric balance. More than 200 previous studies indicate that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can lower cancer risk.
In January the U.S. government added to its list of known or suspected causes of cancer, substances that form when meats are cooked or grilled at high temperatures. Studies suggest an increased cancer risk when foods containing them are eaten.
The ACS claims that eating too much grilled red meat or chicken or even meat pan-fried at a very high temperature may increase cancer risk. Meat or chicken that is well-done or burnt appears to be the greatest concern.
Based on the existing research, the best approach may be to enjoy grilled meats occasionally, but not on a regular basis, to limit exposure to carcinogens (chemicals linked to cancer).
Reames explains that chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HAs) are formed during grilling, broiling or even searing meat in a very hot frying pan as the very high temperatures break down the amino acid creatinine.
There is also some concern that fats from the meat dripping onto coals create additional chemicals in smoke that may land back on the meat. Athough HAs cause cancer in animals, it is uncertain whether the amounts encountered on grilled meat actually increase cancer risk in people.
When you do grill or broil meat, Reames says you can minimize your consumption of unhealthful chemicals in a few ways:
• Don't eat blackened or burnt parts. Precook meats in the oven or microwave, and then finish on the grill for just a few minutes.
• Eat smaller portions of grilled meats.
• Substitute grilled vegetables or fruits for part of the meat in your meal. Many of the chemicals created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits, so you can enjoy grilled flavor without unhealthful chemicals. Fruits and vegetables that work well on the grill include onions, green and red bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, pineapple, papaya or mango. Skewers that alternate small bites of meat with vegetables or fruit are an easy way to maximize flavor and minimize unhealthful chemicals.
Reames makes five dietary suggestions to decrease cancer risk:
1. Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Eat other foods from plant sources, such as breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta or beans several times each day.
2. Limit your intake of high fat meats and dairy products.
3. Be physically active, at least moderately active for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week.
4. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight..
5. Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, if you drink at all.
For additional information about healthy eating, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/