I ADORE Eating Well magazine. Always have. And the May/June 2015 issue did not disappoint! I was so fascinated by Laura Beil’s article “Nature’s Remedies,” (which discusses how diet, among other choices, will impact an individual’s risk of developing cancer) that I have decided to make it the focus of this week’s blog post.
I should preface by stating, as Beil did, that there is no magic formula, detailing specific quantities of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to consume, nor timed allotments of exercise to partake in, nor a chart of essentially perfect weight ranges that can be applied to each human being that inhabits planet Earth. Each person’s body has a unique set of needs. However, there are concrete steps that each individual can take in order to limit their chances of acquiring diseases such as cancer. These include not ingesting or breathing in tobacco products of any kind, and also wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not you can actually see the sun shining. Nevertheless, the ambiguity of cancer prevention comes into play with the discussion surrounding the definition of a nutritionally dense diet.
What exactly does this mean? Are all foods created equal in their capacity to prevent disease? According to Beil, not quite…
When it comes to a nutritionally dense diet, it’s not all about that base, it’s all about those phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are chemicals originating from the Earth, and they are found most abundantly in specific types of fruits, legumes, nuts, and vegetables. Therefore, an individual receives more bang for their nutritional buck when they consume certain types of foods that belong to each of the groupings listed above. With that being said, below is a list of food groupings that are generally considered more nutrient dense than their counterparts, so they in turn aid in preventing tumor development within the human body (Beil).
Berries – (AKA blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries)
There is absolutely no dearth of anthocyanin, antioxidants, elegiac acid, or Vitamin C in berries. Interestingly, a Georgetown University School of Medicine study demonstrated the incredible effects that these fruits have in decreasing the size of tumors in animals. Specifically, scientists fed mice with breast cancer black raspberries for approximately half of a year, and the tumors inside of the mice shrunk by 70% (Beil).
Nuts – (AKA almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, the list goes on)
Nuts contain a plethora of anacardic acid, ellagitannins, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and resveratrols. The New England Journal of Medicine illustrated the amazing cancer busting qualities of nuts in a study published in the autumn of 2013. They concluded that in individuals who consumed at least 1 ounce of nuts five or more times over the course of seven days, their chances of dying from any type of cancer was reduced by an astounding 11% (Beil).
Cruciferous Vegetables – (AKA broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale)
These vegetables are rich in folate, potassium, sulforaphane, and potassium. The Annals of Oncology discovered in 2013 that when comparing the amount of cruciferous vegetables that people ate, those who ate the highest quantity had an 18% less chance of acquiring colon cancer (Beil).
Red/Pink Produce – (AKA pink grapefruit, papaya, tomatoes, and watermelon)
Lycopene is responsible for the distinctly vibrant color of red and pink produce. Here’s a helpful hint concerning lycopene: current research indicates that the compound is most effectively absorbed into the bloodstream through the consumption of cooked tomatoes rather than through the consumption of raw tomatoes or tomato juice (Beil).
Legumes – (AKA beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts)
Folate, and fiber, and protein, oh my! Researchers at the Loma Linda University conducted an experiment which demonstrated that individuals who consume legumes just three times each week decreased their chances of acquiring colon cancer by 1/3 (Beil).
Allium Vegetables – (AKA chives, garlic, leeks, onions, and scallions)
Garlic is the absolute knockout in this category. Without a doubt, research points to garlic being the most effective in its prevention of breast and pancreatic tumor growth. The specifics in turns of the quantity that must be eaten to reap the full benefits of garlic is not conclusive, nor has it been determined whether or not raw or cooked garlic is the better choice in terms of protecting against cancer. Nevertheless, the results are promising enough to subscribe to this method of eating (Beil)!
In conclusion, the heart of the matter is that the chemical structure of particular food groups remains unchanged. On the contrary, the messages that our society is bombarded with about specific quantities of foods that we should be consuming (does the 5-A-Day campaign ring a bell?) varies. With this insight, it is critical to understand and appreciate not only the quantity of foods we are eating, but also the quality. More than ever, it is clear that certain food groups offer more of an advanced nutritional profile than others, particularly when pertaining to the acquisition and the prevention of disease.
Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,
Beil, Laura. “Nature’s Remedies.” Eating Well May/June 2015: 81-88. Print. 6 May 2015.