February is Cancer Prevention Month and a perfect time to discuss what we can do to reduce the risk of getting cancer.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, 1/3 of the 1.5 million new cases of cancer in the US could be avoided if we made better lifestyle choices. Our last blog highlighted how tobacco and overweight increase the risk for certain cancers. Today we’ll focus on some aspects of how choosing healthier foods and avoiding processed meats may reduce the cancer risk.
Cell damage in the human body largely due to free radicals is a naturally occurring process. Phytochemicals (they estimate more than 100,000) and antioxidants found in plants protect against this cell damage. The best sources are vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. They are protective and can lessen the amount of cell damage. This, in turn, has been shown to be able to not only reduce the risk of cancer but also the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory diseases.
On the other hand, processed meats, especially sausages and deli meats, contain nitrite, a powerful preservative extremely toxic to bacteria. This nitrite can interact with meat to form nitrosamine, a known human carcinogen. There is considerable concern that these nitrites from processed meat may be involved in carcinogenesis and associated with cancer of the stomach, bladder, pancreas, and colon. Just one 5 oz. serving of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%.
We can actively reduce the risk of certain adult cancers and their nonoccurrence by increasing the consumption of whole foods that protect against cell damage and by decreasing or avoiding the use of processed meats.