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Let food be your medicine

By the Prevent Cancer Now writers’ circle

You are what you eat!

Author Michael Pollan put it well, encouraging people to eat food, not too much, mostly plants, and preferably in the company of others. Highly processed products or anything that arrives through a car window do not count as food. Yet another ingredient – emulsifiers to keep oil and water mixed in processed foods – just joined some colours, flavours and other additives that potentially contribute to cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), an organization that continually updates research databases on links between diet/nutrition and specific cancers, indicates that at least 30 percent of cancers are related to diet. It offers a number of basic recommendations for healthy eating to lower cancer risks.

We are reminded to reduce or eliminate refined sugar, white flour and alcohol. Moderation is key because extra body weight correlates with higher cancer risks. Eat a diverse, largely plant-based diet of healthy, whole, colourful foods rich in nutrients and fibre, including vegetables, fruits, beans and lentils, grains, and limited quantities of nuts and seeds (they are fattening!). Organic and locally grown foods have lower levels of pesticides and are fresher.

Animal-based foods, particularly red meat, are best kept to a minimum; if you choose to eat them, then organic and pasture-fed versions are recommended. Processed meats are often best left aside, because common additives (e.g. nitrates) can increase risks of childhood leukemia, and bladder and colorectal cancers. Moderate, occasional servings of fish, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements offer “good fats” and are a healthy option for cancer prevention; however, fish may also be contaminated with persistent organic pollutants and mercury. Wise fishermen follow local consumption guidelines and savvy shoppers follow recommendations such as Sea Choice for the best health and sustainability options.

Obtaining complete nutrition from unprocessed, vegan diets is feasible, economical and desirable for diverse health and sustainability reasons. Taking steps to make better meal choices is not difficult, although it takes a bit of planning, knowledge of food combining, and involves the fun of experimenting with herbs and spices. Recent research confirms again that plant-based diets were linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer, in a study of 97,000 Seventh Day Adventists (7 year follow-up).

Beside food choices, food preparation is important. Cook slowly at low heat to minimize the formation of carcinogens with browning and charring of food. Also, avoid non-stick cookware that can release toxic compounds that disrupt hormone actions, and use glass (not plastic) containers for microwaving and storing food.

Cooking isn’t always easy with families to feed and limited time and money, but planning meals in advance can be a great help. Shared meals with family and friends not only feed both body and soul, they tend to be nutritionally superior to snacks or fast food grabbed on the run.


  • World Cancer Research Fund International. CLICK HERE
  • Kaiser Permanente. The Plant-Based Diet. 2013. CLICK HERE
  • Making smart seafood decisions for today and tomorrow. CLICK HERE
  • American Dietetic Association. Vegetarian Diets, 2009. CLICK HERE


  • Orlich et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Colorectal Cancers. JAMA Internal Medicine, March 9, 2015. CLICK HERE
  • Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013. CLICK HERE
  • Chassaing et al. Dietary Emulsifiers Impact the Mouse Gut Microbiota Promoting Colitis and Metabolic Syndrome. Nature 519, no. 7541 (March 5, 2015). CLICK HERE
  • FAO/WHO. Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements, 2001. CLICK HERE

Also in the MAY 2015 Issue of An Ounce Newsletter

Published: May 19, 2015


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