The Big “C.” Scary stuff. Why does it happen and what can we do to stop it? Although the exact cause of cancer remains unknown, the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 75 percent of cancer cases are caused by environmental factors (which means we may have some control over them), things like exposure to the sun, toxins, radiation, smoking, alcohol, and diet. In fact, a full one third of all cancer deaths can be traced to dietary factors and a lack of exercise.
Raising the bar when it comes to preventing cancers can be as simple as making a few lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet, supplementing nutrients as needed, exercising regularly, and limiting exposure to toxins. First, let’s learn more about why diet is such a big factor when it comes to cancer risk.
Why Diet Matters So Much
Eating right can dramatically impact the likelihood of developing cancer. If you aren’t getting the right nutrients in your diet and through supplementation , especially antioxidants to repair cellular damage caused by highly reactive and toxic free radicals, your risk for cancer rises. “We all get DNA hits over our lifetimes,” says Bradley Willcox, M.D., a clinical scientist and geriatrician at the Pacific Health Research Institute at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and co-author of The Okinawa Program: How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve
Everlasting Health—And How You Can Too. “The more hits we get, the more we’re at risk for cancer.” The big question is, are you getting the necessary nutrients to help fix and repair the body when it is in need?
Simple Changes, Big Results
Many Americans don’t eat the way they should. But with simple changes, you can turn this around. Experts like Karen Collins, M.S., R.D., an advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research, say a plant-based diet is the overall formula that shows the most protection. The Okinawans in Japan, some of the most longest-lived people in the world, eat primarily a plant-based diet. So there must be something to this! Dr. Willcox found that, in Okinawa, people use the three fourths rule. This means you fill your plate with three fourths of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans), and one fourth animal food, such as meat, poultry, or seafood. You can go all out and become a vegetarian, but that’s not really necessary unless that’s something you feel strongly about. Good substitutes for animal protein include legumes, whole grains, and beans.
Go Hormones and Antibiotic Free
When you do eat meat—and also chicken and eggs—choose free-range products without hormones and antibiotics. This is especially important for children. The longer hormones are in the body, the greater the risk is for cancers, specifically breast cancer.
You’ll also want to include fish—but do monitor your fish intake to avoid mercury, another toxin. The bigger the fish, like tuna and halibut, the more mercury it’s going to have. Instead, choose smaller salmons, like sockeye and Chinook. Salmon from Alaska is preferable because the water is cleaner there.