Dear Dr. Garner,
I hear all the time on television about the benefit of certain foods, like green tea and broccoli. Can you give me a list of foods that are good to prevent cancer and foods that might cause me to be more likely to get cancer? I try to eat the right things, but I am not sure of the recommendations.
Cancerphobic in Canarsie
I will attempt to answer your question regarding specific foods and their effect on cancer. I was just talking about this topic with my good friend and colleague Dr. Mascatello. It is important, however, to understand that it is not a single food that wards off cancer but rather lifestyle and a variety of food groups. Good advice is to follow a well-balanced diet with specific types of food in moderation.
In general, brightly colored fruit and vegetables provide the greatest cancer-fighting ability. These foods are high in substances known as antioxidants. They help to protect the cells of our body from changing or mutating, which is what leads to cancer.
Specific foods in this category include oranges, lemons and raw vegetables. An interesting fact is that vitamin pills do not provide the same effect as vitamins as part of the food substance do. Scientists are not sure why pills do not provide the same effect to the body as natural vitamins in food, but there is no substitute for the real thing that works as well.
Patients must be advocates in improving their diets. Many physicians who specialize in cancer have not been given formal training in dietary issues. It is often necessary to visit a nutritionist to help set up your diet to include foods that protect against cancer.
Plant-based foods tend to be high on the list of cancer-fighting ability. Add fruit and nuts to whole-grain breakfast cereal. Oatmeal is an excellent source. At lunch, eat a big salad with beans and peas. Eat whole-grain bread, and have a side dish of vegetables. For snacks, I suggest fresh fruit and vegetables. For dinner, add either fresh or frozen vegetables to your meals.
Fiber is not often thought of as a food, however. It can be significant in its ability to fight cancer. Ways to add more fiber to your diet include eating brown rice, whole-grain bread and the skin of the fruit as well as the flesh.
Examples of high-fiber foods include whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta, fruit, peas, beans and vegetables. Certain spices are known to be cancer fighters including garlic, ginger and curry powder.
On the other hand, there are foods which increase the risk for cancer. When using cooking oils, keep the temperature below 240 degrees. Temperatures above this level increase the cancer-producing qualities of the oil. When barbecuing, avoid burning or charring meat. Eat fresh meat instead of cured or dried meats.
Fried foods are particularly dangerous. During the frying process, a chemical known as acrylamide is produced. This chemical has been shown to be cancer producing and can be lessened by avoiding fried foods. Cotton seed oil and canola oil are particularly bad for your health. They are highly processed and contain chemicals known to increase the risk of cancer. Peanut and olive oil are good alternatives. Microwave popcorn, unfortunately, is another no-no. Toxic chemicals are formed during the cooking process. Sugar, both white and brown, has been implicated as a carcinogen. Heavily salted, smoked and pickled foods have been shown to increase risk of stomach cancer.
Incidentally, organic foods have not been shown to have any added benefit, so save your money.
In summary, lifestyle, and diet are the best ways to avoid cancer. The top six worst foods for cancer, and top six best foods to avoid cancer are as follows:
1. Hot dogs (children should eat no more than 12 per month)
2. French fries – a killer
3. Donuts (fried at high temperatures)
4. Potato chips
5. Processed meats
6. Pickled foods
5. Prunes (kill two birds with one stone)
6. Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts)
Lifestyle and diet are the best ways to avoid cancer.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Ch. 97 Time Warner and Ch. 30 Cablevision.