Is There A Cancer Fighting Diet?

From Fanconi's Anemia newsletter 2002

By Carol Ceresa, Nutritionist

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could prevent or delay the onset of cancer, especially since children and adults with Fanconi anemia are at increased risk? I believe in the value of overall good nutrition and in carefully evaluating and trying some products and supplements that may be of benefit. To have the best strategies for fighting cancer, we need to consider the basics.

Cancer starts with a single cell that gets out of control. The causes of cancer are not entirely clear. Cancer promoters, called carcinogens, include viruses and chemicals, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors (air pollution, smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet). No single food or nutrient causes or prevents cancer. However, there are steps that will help reduce your risk for cancer.

Eat a plan-based diet.

Vegetables and fruits have a complex composition with more than 100 vitamin, mineral, fiber and other beneficial substances. Phytochemicals, meaning plan chemicals, may offer protection from cancer. Phytochemicals are substances that plants naturally produce to protect themselves against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Some of these naturally occurring substances are cartenoids, flavonoids, indoles, isoflavones and protease inhibitors. As with vitamins and minerals, different plant foods supply different kinds of protection. How much is enough? At least 5 servings/day of fruits and vegetables. Which ones are best for fighting cancer?

Include antioxidants to "round-up" and destroy the cell-damaging free radicals that are by-products of cells burning oxygen.

Free radicals can damage body cells and tissues, as well as DNA, which is your body's master plan for reproducing cells. The following three antioxidant vitamins and selenium, a mineral, play key roles in neutralizing free radicals:

  • Beta-carotene (which turns into Vitamin A in the Body). This is supplied by dark green and deep orange fruits and vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, bok choy, broccoli, spinach, and V-8 or other vegetable juices.
  • Vitamin C, contained in oranges, cantaloupe, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, red bell pepper, broccoli, brussel sprouts.
  • Vitamin E, found in wheat germ, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and vegetable oils.
  • Selenium, present in seafood, lean meats and whole grains.

Eat foods rich in phytochemicals:

  • Allyl sulfides: onions, garlic.
  • Ellagic acid: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans.
  • Flavonoids: black or green tea, citrus, red grapes.
  • Lycopene: tomatoes and tomato products, red grapefruit.
  • Phytoestrogens: soybeans, grains.
  • Resveratrol: peanuts.

Be sure that you are building on the foundation of a diet that is as healthful as possible.

Eating a nutritious diet each day can help to maintain or improve your feeling of well being, your strength and energy level as well as shoring up your body's nutrient stores and defenses. You must have an adequate level of protein (meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs & nuts); foods rich in calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese or calcium enriched soy, wholesome grains and starches (6-11 servings/day); as well as the fruits & vegetables rich in cancer fighting substances. Although there are very specific recommendations for number of portions depending on age and activity level, each of us should have at least:

  • 4 daily servings of whole grain/high fiber bread or cereal.
  • 3 daily servings of low-fat milk or other high-calcium foods.
  • 2 small daily servings of lean meat, poultry, fish or vegetable protein.
  • 1 serving of beans or lentils every other day.
  • 30 minutes every day of moderate physical activity.

Consider vitamin and mineral supplements.

Talk with your health care professional before taking vitamin and mineral supplements or any other alternative therapy. This will help to ensure that you take safe and appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals. A good rules is: food first, vitamins and minerals in appropriate amounts (100% of the recommended daily allowances) plus recommended levels of antioxidants for FA; and cautious use/trial of other supplements that have been discussed and approved by your physician/health care provider.

Your diet is an important part of your defense against cancer. Eating the right kinds of food, every day, can help you feel better and stay stronger.