1. CHOOSE PLANT BASED FOOD
Recent findings indicate that you're better off focusing on plants - which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and also seaweeds/ marine plants. Plant foods have long been known to promote health and wellness. In cultures whose primary diet has been plant based, people lived longer with reduced rates of many chronic diseases including cancer and heart disease, which is so common in populations consuming the standard American diet.
What makes the plant based diet so powerful?
Plant based food provides you with all the nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) that you need for survival. In addition, they contain an appreciable quantity of compounds that do not fit into the above classifications called phyto-nutrients or phytochemicals (refer to insert).
Phytonutrients (phyto - plant in Greek) are naturally occurring plant molecules that provides plants with color (the brilliant pink colour of dragon fruit), smell (garlic and spices) and flavor (chillies). Although many phytonutrients have been identified so far, scientists have only begun to investigate a small fraction of their properties and in the process, more and more are being discovered.
The anticancer mechanisms
Fruits and vegetables are known to contain a complex mixture of compounds that posess potent anti-cancer properties. Research shows that these compounds once digested can influence the chemical processes inside our bodies in many helpful ways such as:
Source of antioxidants
One of the most quoted anticancer mechanisms of phytonutrients is via an antioxidant pathway, either by inducing antioxidant enzymes (such as super-oxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione) or by absorbing free radicals directly.
Excessive free radical damage in our cells may result in the mutation of some cells. Free radicals are reactive molecules that can bind and damage proteins, cell membranes and DNA. Every toxin in our body has the potential to cause free radical damage and the carcinogenic (cancer causing) ones cause even more. The good news is antioxidants from plant sources can get rid of the free radicals.
To simplify matters, we can define an antioxidant as a molecule that transforms free radicals into harmless by-products. They protect other compounds from oxidation by being oxidized themselves. Anti-oxidants also help in maintaining health and repairing cellular damage. Many phytonutrients have antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to cells throughout the body.
Fruits and vegetables are your best sources of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium and these antioxidants protect the DNA from oxidative damage caused by ingested or environmental carcinogens. They help the cells in the body function optimally.
Sources of vitamins and minerals
Remember how the simple citrus fruits prevented the sailors from developing scurvy, a disease that causes softening and bleeding of organs, tendons, skin and gum and also death of sailors during the 16th to the 18th century? It used to be that a sailor on a long voyage would likely not return home alive not because he was slain by pirates or perish in a storm, but because he had scurvy. This disease which was caused by insufficient intake of vitamin c was prevented simply by giving a daily dose of lemon juice to those on board ships.
Vitamins and minerals are critical to a healthy body. They help the body carry out many of its vital functions such as healing wounds, boosting the immune system, strengthening bones, converting food into energy, repair cellular damage and many more. There are at least 30 vitamins, minerals, and dietary components that your body needs but cannot manufacture on its own in sufficient amounts. Any deficiencies even in small quantities can cause substantial harm to the body. Examples of diseases caused by nutrient deficiency.
One of the causes of cancer is nutrient deficiency. Regular consumption of a variety of plant based food are your best sources of vitamins and minerals required by the body.
Source of Phytonutrients — Through the colorful varieties
It is important to eat a broad range of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. The greater the variety of colors you include in your diet, the more you will benefit from the phytonutrients that are present in each food. Different colors are rich in different phytonutrients. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene which can reduce the risk of prostate cancer whereas red/purple fruits such as blueberries and beetroot contain anthocyanin which can support healthy blood pressure and can also help lower the risk of cancer.
Combining various fruits and vegetables has also been shown to have a much greater effect than a single component. Therefore, put a rainbow of colors on your plate to make the most of the many phytonutrients nature has to offer. The five food groups are red, yellow/orange, green, white and purple. Refer to table below.
Source of fiber
Eating plant-based foods increase your fiber intake. There are broadly 2 categories of fiber; soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water (making a gelatinous mess) and is fermented by bacteria in the digestive system. Insoluble fiber or roughage, is the part of plants that our body can’t digest and it passed though our digestive system intact. They are useful in stimulating and easing bowel movement and also help to regulate sugar intake.
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Good sources of fibers are Psyllium seeds, flaxseeds, whole grains, beans, fruits like banana, berries, citrus, prunes and apples and vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions and dark green leafy vegetables.
In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber. Your focus should be on fiber intake in general, rather than what type of fiber.
Additional booster - add herbs and spices
Today herbs and spices are increasingly revered not only for their culinary properties but also for their health benefits. For example, antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation, as well as reductions in blood glucose concentrations in people with diabetes. Cinnamon is also very high in the super antioxidant glutathione and it helps improve circulation.
Garlic, ginger, and turmeric not only add flavor, but are also packed with valuable cancer-fighting chemicals. Other good choices include basil, all spice, rosemary, lemon grass, coriander, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, cloves, mustard, thyme and saffron. The anti-cancer compounds in these herbs and spices among others alter the metabolic pathways and hormonal actions that are associated with the progression of cancer. These mechanisms include stimulating the immune system, inhibiting the cell growth and inhibition of angiogenesis.
The five food groups
Note: The colors need not exactly fall within the color group.
Sweet potato (orange)
Kangkong (water convulvus)
Green apples, grapes
Green beans, Guava
A diet based on a varied and regular intake of plant foods containing high levels of phytochemical compounds represents the strongest weapon at your disposal for the prevention of cancer, improves your health and boosts your overall resistance to diseases.