healthy choices

Cancer and Nutrition

Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by proper nutrition. This was the conclusion of a major review of thousands of research studies on the relationship between diet and cancer.1 Some experts think the number of preventable cancers is even higher.

Why this information isn’t being shouted from the rooftops by the medical world is a complicated subject, and discussed in detail in the book, Journey to Hope. Suffice it to say for now that good nutrition is critical in both the prevention and management of breast cancer (or any other disease). This only makes sense since cancer incidence is closely tied to environmental factors, and what we eat is a major way we interact with the environment.

The question of course is, what is proper nutrition? There are thousands of diet books on the shelves telling us what to eat. But people have been eating healthy for thousands of years, long before there were any books on the subject, and before we ever knew what a carbohydrate or a protein was. It can’t possibly be as complicated as we make it.

Much of the confusion stems from imprecise terminology that doesn’t differentiate between a Snicker’s Bar and an apple (both carbohydrates), or between an avocado and lard (both fats). In what Dr. T. Colin Campbell calls a reductionist philosophy, there is an overemphasis on carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in our culture. These are the building blocks of our food, but they aren’t the whole story.

Technically speaking, we don’t eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We eat meat, fish, fruits, and so on. Even more basic than that, we either eat animals or we eat plants. The cancer picture in terms of diet becomes much clearer when we look at it in these simple terms. Cancer rates rise when we eat too much of one and not enough of the other.

In a thirty year study in rural China, described in his classic book, The China Study, Dr. Campbell found that as the percentage of animal products in the diet rose above 10%, the breast cancer rate rose proportionately. There are also multiple studies showing that the incidence of all types of cancers is lower in populations that eat a large amount of fruits and vegetables.

woman making choicesAnother major issue is modern technology. The “factory farm” has literally changed the way America eats, and most of America isn’t even aware of it. Keep in mind that for animal food, we’re eating the animal and whatever it ate. And for plant food, we’re eating the plant and whatever was sprayed on it. Food is a major vehicle for toxic substances to find their way into our bodies. It’s important to know where your food comes from and what’s been done to it before it gets to your table.

Modern technology also affects our health in the area of processed foods. Anything that comes in a box or a wrapper pretty much falls into this category. Foods are processed in order to make them last longer on the shelf. Processing involves removing part of the food and replacing it with preservatives. Unfortunately, it’s usually the nutritious part that’s removed.

The subject of diet and cancer is discussed at length in Journey to Hope. It outlines a new way of thinking about food. A healthy diet is a lot simpler than most diet books make it.

1. Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. American Inst for Cancer Research, Washington, DC. 1997.

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