Frequently asked questions about cancer, nutrition and exerciseQ. Why should I bother changing my current habits and eating more fruit and vegetables? Wouldn’t it be better just to take a multi-vitamin tablet and other supplements?
• Although it is tempting to take supplements to compensate for a poor diet, it is widely believed that nothing can substitute for a healthy, balanced diet made up of a variety of fruit and vegetables;
• It is also widely believed that the benefits we gain from eating fruit and vegetables cannot be explained just by their vitamin and mineral content. Instead it is widely acknowledged that they contain many more nutrients (phytochemicals/phytonutrients), which are believed to have far more significant benefits on our health;
• It is also thought that there are many benefits to be gained from a variety and combination of phytonutrients and how they work together to improve their overall effectiveness.
Q. What are the health benefit differences between organic and non-organic vegetables and fruit?
• One of the thoughts for eating organic fruit and vegetables is that the plants themselves have had to stimulate their own defence systems in order to protect themselves against disease etc, and as a result will have slightly higher levels of phytochemical/phytonutrient compounds in them;
• The benefits of eating a varied diet rich in fruit and vegetables out way the risks of the pesticides used during the growing process of non-organic fruit and vegetables. To help reduce the risk, always clean and wash the skin of all fruit and vegetables thoroughly prior to preparation and consumption;
• Additionally, there are some vegetables and fruit where the cultivation process is thought to be less important;
|Fruits and vegetables subject to most contamination, therefore choose organic||Fruits and vegetables subject to less contamination, and organic is not so important|
Q. Shouldn’t I follow a low fat diet to reduce the risk of cholesterol and heart disease too?
• We need fat in our diet. And a low fat diet is not always necessarily a healthy diet;
• However there are ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. To help reduce our risk of cholesterol and heart disease, it is believed that we need to limit our intake of the ‘bad’ fats. These so called ‘bad fats’ are saturated and trans-fats. Saturated fats are found predominantly in red meat, butter and cheese;
• Trans-fats occur naturally in low levels in red meat, butter and cheese, however they are mostly consumed artificially after the process of hydrogenation has ‘hardened’ the fat. These hydrogenated fats/trans-fats are found in many processed foods i.e. pre-made cakes, muffins, biscuits etc. These fats raise cholesterol levels in the blood and as a result it is thought they may contribute to a raised risk of heart disease and strokes;
• The ‘good’ fats are unsaturated. There are predominantly 2 types; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and they may help reduce disease risk, lower cholesterol levels in the blood and reduce inflammation;
• Boost your levels of these good fats by increasing your intake of nuts, seeds and oily fish, whilst reducing your intake of red meat, butter and cheese.
Q. If I reduce the amount of meat I consume I won’t get enough protein in my diet?
• Whilst consuming red meat in moderation isn’t a problem, it does contain saturated fats (see earlier question above) which are believed to possibly increase cholesterol levels in the blood and possibly increase the risk of heart disease;
• We do need protein in our diets. It is essential to help our body with movement, balancing fluid levels, the transportation of nutrients and helping our immune system;
• So replace red meat with poultry and fish options instead. Removing the skin from poultry will help reduce saturated fat levels. Whilst consuming fish, especially oily fish, will boost you levels of the essential fat, omega 3;
• If you are following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, you can still get all your protein from your food intake. Lentils, beans and split peas all contain protein. As do seeds, nuts and nut butters;
• Certain vegetarian combinations also provide complete proteins. A complete protein contains all the essential amino acids, in the correct amounts. Examples include; eating lentils and rice together, also eating beans/pulses with wholegrains. Additionally, the wholegrain quinoa and soya are complete proteins in their own right;
• So there are many ways in which we can get protein in our diets, without the need to revert to red meat.
Q.What is the link between cancer and red meat?
• It is believed that eating red meat may increase the risk of bowel cancer. The element in red meat, which gives it its colour is thought to damage the lining of the bowel;
• Additionally, it is thought that traditionally those diets which are rich in red meat are often lower in plant based ingredients and therefore lacking in many essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients/chemicals (see earlier question on ‘Supplements vs fruit and vegetables’)
Q. Isn’t it too late to change my diet, since I’ve already been diagnosed with cancer?
• It is never too late to embrace a healthy diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables;
• Eating a balanced and varied diet, rich in fruit and vegetables will help support your immune system, but it will also help your body build up a strong foundation for your future health.
Q. Following a recommended diet during my treatment is fine, but following my treatment can return to my original eating habits?
• Following a healthy and balanced diet is one of the best things you can do, regardless of whether it is after cancer treatment or not;
• Specifically after treatment though, a balanced and healthy diet will help you regain your strength and will help your body to heal;
• It is also thought that a healthy diet may reduce the risk of other illnesses occurring, such as heart disease, strokes and possibly other cancers.
Q. Why do you recommend not eating white potatoes? What’s the problem with a normal white potato?
• Most white potatoes are high on the Glycaemic Index (GI). The GI is a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates we eat are converted to sugar and absorbed into our bloodstream;
• When we consume high GI foods our blood sugar levels spike and to control these our body releases insulin into our bloodstream. At the same time as releasing insulin however, insulin growth factor (IGF) is also released;
• It is thought that lowering your IGF levels may help reduce the risk of certain cancers;
• Foods which are lower on the GI don’t cause the same blood sugar spikes and therefore don’t result in the same insulin and IGF levels.
Q. Is there a link between cancer and refined sugar?
• Eating refined sugar isn’t part of a healthy balanced diet, whether you have cancer or not;
• It is believed that sugar is one of the fuels for cancer. Whether these have been proven 100% or not refined sugars would not be included in a healthy and balanced diet;
• It is widely believed that a diet high in refined sugar is associated with an increased risk of obesity and the many problems associated with that.
Q. If I’m not supposed to eat sugar why are you telling me to eat more fruit? Surely there is sugar in fruit?
• Yes there is sugar in fruit. But this is naturally occurring sugar and your body is better able to manage blood sugar levels when you consume fruit as opposed to heavily refined and processed sugars, which cause the blood sugar spikes already mentioned;
• Additionally fruit contains so many important phytonutrients/chemicals, vitamins and minerals that incorporating them into your diet is essential for a complete and healthy diet.
Q. Which is better to eat butter or margarine?
• Butter is high in saturated fat and many margarine products are high in trans-fat, as a result it is advised that they are avoided because it is believed they may increase cholesterol and therefore possibly increase the risk of heart disease and strokes;
• Some margarine products are now being produced which claim to be high in unsaturated fat and with no trans-fat, however the products are still heavily processed and refined;
• Reduce your overall consumption of butter and margarine, and instead chose a more natural alternative, such as olive oil or flax oil.
Q. You are telling me to eat ‘spices’ in my food, but doesn’t spicy food increase my risk of stomach cancer?
• It is believed that increased risk of cancer has been associated with very high consumption levels of chilli;
• However it is widely thought that by using spices in moderation, such as turmeric, cumin and small amounts of chilli in cooking may give health benefits of their own;
• Turmeric is widely believed to be one of the most potent and naturally occurring anti-inflammatories known to man.
Q. What about red wine? I’ve heard it can be good for you, is this true?
• Grapes, specifically the skin and seeds of grapes contain certain polyphenols, are a class of phytonutrients/chemicals found in some fruit and vegetables;
• It is believed that certain of these phytonutrients/chemicals, specifically resveratrol, may demonstrate health benefits and cancer chemopreventive (natural agents, which are believed to inhibit the development of cancer) qualities when consumed in moderation.
Q. I know I am supposed to eat more fish, especially of the oily variety but I’ve read that fish can contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful. Is this true? How does it affect my food choices?
• Both fish and shellfish retain and concentrate mercury in their bodies;
• However the levels of mercury vary between species and for a number of other reasons;
• It is thought that fish which are higher on the food chain and have lived longer tend to have the highest concentrations of mercury, for example; swordfish, tuna, shark, marlin and the king mackerel;
• However it is believed that smaller and younger fish varieties may have lower mercury levels, for example; fresh water trout, wild salmon, sardines, herrings, Atlantic mackerel and anchovies;
• Additionally the smaller more oily fish are rich sources of omega-3, an essential fat, which is widely believed to demonstrate anti-inflammatory benefits.
Q. Can meditation and yoga really help reduce my risk of cancer?
• Meditation and many meditative forms of exercise, for example; yoga, tai chi and qigong, are believed to have many health benefits including:
- improved mood;
- improved concentration levels;
- reducing depression;
- boosting the immune system;
- helping to control pain.
• The highlight I wish to make here is the possible boost to your immune system. During deep periods of meditation, it is believed that melatonin is produced. Melatonin is normally produced when we sleep however it is also thought that levels can also be boosted during periods of meditation too;
• Melatonin is a hormone we produce which helps our body regulate and boost our immune system. It is believed that people affected by cancer have relatively low levels of melatonin;
• It is important to note, however that some people who are new to meditation find that their anxiety levels increase and their problems are heightened initially. Finding a meditation teacher to help guide you through the process will help limit these possible initial side-effects.
Q. Is there such a thing as the ‘anti-cancer’ personality? How can my mind and emotions be linked to my risk of cancer?
• There is no clear evidence that one psychological factor by itself is capable of causing cancer;
• However, like nutrition and exercise, there is increasing support for the belief that certain psychological states may have an impact on our body and how vulnerable we are to disease. But there are so many factors which influence the disease that it would be impossible to place total emphasis on this one element;
• Stress is an emotion which has received a lot of attention with regards its impact on our health and wellbeing. It is believed that those people who suffer with stress have weaker immune systems and are more likely to develop common colds and other illnesses. But also their immune systems may find it difficult to regulate the inflammatory process.
Q. How can gentle exercise reduce my risk of the cancer returning?
• Gentle exercise works alongside nutrition and emotional/mental wellbeing, as an important factor which may help prevent cancer;
• Many believe in the importance of gentle exercise not just for during and after cancer treatment, but for overall health and wellbeing;
• It is widely accepted that gentle aerobic exercise is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle.
Q. I exercise regularly and I still developed cancer, how can this happen?
• Taking part in gentle exercise is just one recommendation to help reduce our risk to cancer. There are always exceptions;
• There are so many factors affecting cancer and our risks to it. However participating in gentle exercise is only of benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.
Q. Can exercise be dangerous for cancer patients?
• Exercise for cancer patients isn’t dangerous, and in fact guidelines produced by the National Cancer Institute and Macmillan Cancer Support actually encourage exercise for cancer patients;
• However exercise should be taken moderately and gently. Caution being taken to not over exert or stress the body. But instead gradually build up exercise levels, thereby improving stamina, energy levels and overall health and wellbeing.
Research and support:
• Organic vs non-organic fruit and vegetables:
‘Anti-cancer a new way of life’ Dr David Servan-Schreiber
• Fats and cholesterol, the good and bad:
• Red and processed meats and possible cancer prevention:
• Diet and stomach cancer:
• Possible cancer chemopreventive activity of resveratrol:
• Physical activity and cancer prevention:
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