What is Cancer: “Cancer” – one barbaric word that gives me jitter every time I encounter it. It is a very common disease nowadays and according to British Journal of Cancer, 1 in 3 people will get it at some point in their life. It is a fatal disease which starts when cells grow uncontrollably and crowd out normal cells making it difficult for the body to function the way it should. Every cell in our body has its own certain job and when these cells are damaged or worn out, our body produces new cells and old cells are replaced by the new ones. The cancer cells keep on growing and making new cells, crowding out the normal cells.
How it is treated: Some cancers spread and thrive rapidly while others grow slowly, hence the treatment for both is different depending upon the type and stage of cancer a person is. Few are treated with surgery, few with radiations while others respond well to chemotherapy. When surgery is the best option and is performed to eliminate the cancer, there is a possibility that the surgeon might take out some or all of the cancer affected body part. Like in breast cancer, a part or the entire breast might be removed. Similarly, the entire prostate gland might be removed for treating prostate cancer. However, surgery is not needed to treat all types of cancer. Blood cancer (leukemia) is best treated with drugs and this process is termed as Chemotherapy (Chemo). Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It can be given by IV (into a vein through a needle) or via pills to swallow. Chemo drugs travel to almost all parts of the body hence they are useful for cancer that has spread. Radiation is another way to kill or hinder the growth of cancer cells. It can be done alone or along with surgery or chemotherapy depending upon the type and severity of the disease. Radiation treatment is like getting an x-ray.
Types of Cancer: Cancer cells can spread to any part of the body causing cancer of the particular organ. Various types of Cancer are lungs, breasts, cervical, prostrate, skin, blood (leukemia), endometrial, thyroid, stomach, pituitary, cervical, anal, liver, esophagus, eye, gall bladder, penile, pancreatic, kidney, uterine, vaginal etc.
Causes of Cancer: There are various causes to this complex disease, however doctors may not be able to tell the exact cause. A few common causes are smoking, consumption of tobacco and alcohol, sun radiations, heredity, obesity, unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, sedentary lifestyle etc. I have lost my beloved one to Cancer, seen her in extreme pain, fighting but finally losing to it. Lately, I have heard many cases where people who had been healthy eaters, much focused on their health, fitness and diet were still battling with this frightful scourge and unable to find the answer for their question “WHY ME?”. This made me wonder and ponder about the possible eating habits which are overlooked because of ignorance and lack of knowledge, hence I did a lot of research on the topic and concluded “Having a healthy diet is important but alone it will not help you. You need to delete cancer-causing foods and add cancer eradicating foods in your daily diet”.
Here I am sharing a list of few commonly used foods which are said to have carcinogens and can cause Cancer, measures to avoid them and ways to stay away from this brutal curse.
Smoked Foods: According to NCBI, smoked foods contain injurious carcinogens called “nitrates” and “nitrites” that prevent them from rotting and keep them fresh for a longer time. When we cook smoked foods, nitrates and nitrites are converted into N-nitroso compounds which include nitrosamines and nitrosamides which can increase your risk of developing cancer. Frequent intake of smoked foods has more chances to develop cancer hence regulate the consumption. Excess of everything is bad.
BPA lined Canned foods: You must have heard this term “BPA” a lot. Ever thought what exactly it is and why many products mention “BPA free” on their packing? What’s the difference in BPA & BPA free? Well, it stands for “Bisphenol A”. Its a toxic chemical which is used to make certain plastics and products like CDs, DVDs, plastic bottles etc. Sadly, it is linked to several illnesses like cancer, obesity, sugar, reproductive abnormalities, heart ailments etc. Many food companies coat the lining of their canned foods with BPA which gets mixed up with the food later and could harm us severely. Many countries like Canada, the European Union, China and the US have banned the use of BPA in baby products like baby bottles, sippers and baby food packaging too. Canned foods are quite convenient these days and easily available like tomatoes, kidney beans, soups, corns, fruits etc. but it is up to us to decide and choose between comfort and health. Prefer using fresh food only instead of buying the canned and preserved ones. In case, fresh vegetable is not available, prefer frozen over canned but prefer fresh as first choice. Use glass and stainless steel containers instead of plastic. Look for foods packed in glass jars or tetra packs. Never heat food in plastic containers in microwave, even if it is microwave safe and BPA free.
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils and Trans fats: Hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is added to liquid unsaturated fat to convert it into solid fat and during this process, a type of unnatural fat is made which is termed as “Trans fat”. Trans fats increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes and breast cancer too. Example of foods containing hydrogenated oils and trans fat are cookies, crackers, doughnuts, fried foods, muffins, pies, cakes. Limit how often you consume these. On the Nutrition Label, check the amount of trans fats and pick items with “0 g trans fat”, also look for “No hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list. Use non hydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, mustard, coconut, sunflower or olive oil.
Non-Organic Vegetables and Fruits: Crops that are grown using pesticides, harmful chemicals, GMO seeds and herbicides are likely to cause cancer because all these chemicals contain carcinogens and are dangerous. Prefer buying locally grown produce or organic vegetables and fruits, if they are not available and you have no choice but to eat non-organic ones, then make sure you wash them very well using a brush before consuming. Washing does not eliminate all the pesticides residue, but can reduce it. Try to have a kitchen garden of your own. You need not to have a huge space for it, you can grow them in pots too.
Excessive Sugar: I had read many posts about sugar stating it as “White poison” or “Cancer’s favorite food” and I regulated the use of sugar in my daily diet but later I did a lot of research and found that there is no evidence that sugar causes cancer but yes, there is an indirect connection between sugar and cancer. Consuming lot of sugar is not good for body, we all know, as it can lead to weight gain and increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and certain cancers too. According to NBC News, after tobacco and smoking, obesity is the one of the biggest cause for cancer. So, people having a sweet tooth, check on your sugar intake. Nothing is bad if eaten in moderation. To satiate your sugar cravings, pick up a fruit, raisins, dates or even dark chocolate. Avoid sugary drinks, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals as these contain excessive sugar. Check the ingredients list and choose lower sugar options. Don’t say NO to sugar but limit the usage as its good for overall health perspective, not cancer alone.
Microwaved Popcorn: Who does not like to munch on this healthy snack but you need to monitor how it is made. If you are consuming popcorn prepared in a microwave, think again! Microwaved popcorn is one of the cancer-causing foods because the bags are lined with Perfluoroalkyls, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) to prevent the oil from leaking through the bag on heating it. When we heat the popcorn packet in a microwave, these chemicals end up in the popcorn. Many studies show that PFOA has been associated with tumors in animal organs. Also, PFOA plant workers are highly prone to develop prostate cancer. Rely on the traditional way of making it in a pan as its safe and healthier. Takes few minutes only.
Grilled Meat: Grilled meat is heaven for non veg lovers, isn’t it? But research shows that it can increase the chances of getting cancer. Barbecuing and cooking meat under a fire can form carcinogenic compounds “heterocyclic amines” and “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” which are linked to cause cancer based on the research and studies carried out on animals. According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the 5 worst foods to grill are:
- Chicken breast, skinless, boneless, grilled, well done
- Steak, grilled, well done
- Pork, barbecued
- Salmon, grilled with skin
- Hamburger, grilled, well done
But there is a good news too!!! Research suggests ways to lower levels of carcinogens in your meat by marinating it well before cooking. This will help to keep the surface of the meat from getting very hot. Microwaving before barbecuing can also help. Ensure it is cooked well as undercooked meat is not suitable for consumption. Cook at proper temperature, not too hot.
Soft Drinks and Sports Drinks: As I have mentioned above sugary drinks can cause cancer, many studies have confirmed that soft drinks like soda, sport drinks can cause cancer. Due to excessive sugar, they increase the insulin production in the pancreas doubling the risk of pancreatic cancer. Try natural drinks like nimbu pani, coconut water, buttermilk. Infused water can be a great alternative too.
Processed Foods: According to a report commissioned by The World Cancer Research Fund, based on a review of more than 7,000 clinical studies that examined the connection between eating habits and cancer, it was founded that processed foods and meats are not healthy and should be avoided as much as possible. Processed meat is made with meats from animals, raised in animal feeding farms. These animals including farm fishes are fed growth hormones and many other drugs. These meats also contain nitrite to add color and flavor to the food. As I have mentioned above, nitrite are converted into nitrosamines in the body; which are strong cancer-causing chemicals and increase the risk of stomach and other cancers.
According to The BMJ, another major cancer causing agent is processed food as it contain artificial colors, humectants, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents. Many processed foods have large amount of white refined flour, which is also a very unhealthy choice for eating as it goes through a dangerous process of manufacturing and contains many harmful chemicals.
Stick to the food in its natural state as much as possible. Add whole grains, fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Preservatives: Preservatives are used to keep food fresh, edible and safe for a longer period of time. Many flavoring agents, colors, additives, salt, sugar, MSGs, dyes, extracts, oil etc. are the most commonly used preservatives. According to Cancer Council NSW & International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC), preservatives increase the risk of cancer. Instead of packed juices, consume the fresh ones. Mother Nature has so much to offer, why to opt for artificial foods?
How to prevent Cancer: As there are many causes for cancer, there is no foolproof way to stay away from this evil, however certain changes in diet and lifestyle may lower the risk. Apart from the italicized tips given above, consider a few more below:
1. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats: Add Carotenoids rich foods in your diet. These are the pigments that give color to various fruits and vegetables like carrots, brussel sprouts, squash, cantaloupe, sweet potato, kale etc. Add antioxidants like artichokes, all type of berries, pecans, kidney beans, dark chocolate etc to your diet. Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, spinach and beans. Fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C like oranges, guava, kiwi, green and red peppers, papaya etc. Add fibre rich foods. Add seeds, nuts, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids for healthy fats. Add immune boosting herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric, basil, rosemary, and coriander.
2. Done overcook food as it kills many useful vitamins and minerals. Undercooked food is equally harmful.
3. Use vegetable stock for cooking your vegetables, soups, dals or even kneading flour.
4. Use steel and glasswares and try to avoid plastic as much as possible.
5. Prefer to cook oils on low heat as low-heat cooking or baking (less than 240 degrees) prevents oils or fats from turning carcinogenic. Consider other healthier cooking options like baking, boiling, steaming, or broiling instead of deep-frying, pan-frying which require high heat cooking.
6. Store oils in in airtight containers in cool dark place as they become rancid when exposed to heat, light, and air.
7. Maintain a healthy weight: Weight gain, overweight and obesity increases the risk of many cancers like bowel, breast, prostate, pancreatic, endometrial, kidney, gallbladder, esophageal, and ovarian cancers, so keep a check on your weight always.
8. Exercise for at least 30 mins daily, stay physically active and say no to sedentary lifestyle to decrease the risk of colon, endometrial, and postmenopausal breast cancer.
9. Limit alcohol intake.
10. Breastfeeding is highly recommended for mothers for up to 6 months. More the merrier. This not only decreases the risk for the mother to develop breast cancer but also breastfed children are less likely to be overweight.
11. Regular check ups: Regular annual check ups are always advisable for timely and early diagnosis of any disease including Cancer. Don’t wait for any symptom to get it checked. Make sure to get an annual complete health check up done for yourself and your family.
12. Vaccinations: There are vaccines available to prevent cancers like cervical cancer, liver cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer etc. Talk to your practitioner about it and get it done.
Hope you like this article. Do share your thoughts with me. Eat healthy, live healthy.
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