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Care in choosing what you chow can help combat the Big C.

by Dr. Ivan Olegario, M.D.


In this day and age, cancer is fast becoming a major cause of disease, disability and death. Unlike most diseases, cancer is a multifactorial disease—it is caused by multiple factors creating a “perfect storm” of conditions. In addition to the those, what you eat can affect your risk of developing cancer.

Some foods protect you from cancer:

• Soy and soy products reduces the risk of gynecologic cancers, such as uterine cancer, by 39 percent.

• Milk and milk products reduce bladder cancer risk by 40 percent, and colon cancer risk by up to 17 percent.

• Food rich in vitamin A can reduce cervical cancer risk by 41 percent.

• A diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces colon cancer risk by 36 percent.

• A bulb of an Allium vegetable—onion, garlic, shallots, leeks or chives—reduces the risk of gastric cancer by nine percent.

• Eating fish regularly reduces the risk of prostate cancer by 63 percent.

• Drinking coffee regularly reduces the risk of pancreatic cancer by 18 percent.

Some foods increase your cancer risk:

• A diet rich in red meats and processed meats increases the risk of pancreatic cancer by 19 percent, and the risk of breast cancer by up to 12 percent.

• Eating poorly processed or sealed peanut butter may contain aflatoxin, which can cause liver cancer.

Cooking and cancer

How you cook your food also matters with regard to cancer. For example, grilling or barbecuing meats forms benzo[a]pyrene, a potent carcinogen also found in cigarette smoke. Charring from grilling also produces chemicals such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which when metabolized by the body can permanently damage DNA. If you want to enjoy grilled meat, microwave the meat first for around three minutes to pre-cook it. That way, you don’t need to leave the meat too long on the grill to cook it through.

How about deep frying? For carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potatoes (read: French fries and potato chips), deep frying leads to the production of acrylamide, another known carcinogen. It is best to avoid these foods, which are bad for your heart as well.

Lastly, cooking milk lessens its cancer-protective properties. It is best to drink your milk fresh.

Can going organic help?

In an effort to stay healthy, many people are turning to organic foods. There are organic food markets all over the Metro, especially during the weekends.

Many people turn to organic in the hopes that these food products are more nutritious. An extensive review showed that compared to non-organic food products, organic foods have higher-quality protein, and higher levels of minerals and vitamin C. However, these benefits do not necessarily reduce the threat of cancer.

Still, eating organic foods may lower cancer risk—in an indirect way. To date, there is no strong evidence to show that consuming organic foods protects you from cancer. However, conventional agricultural methods expose food products to heavy metals such as arsenic, and solvents such as benzene. Arsenic is a component of many herbicides and fungicides used in farming. Benzene is a component of some pesticides. As mentioned before, these two chemicals can increase cancer risk.

Organic farming can reduce the contents of these chemicals in the food we eat. Another carcinogen commonly used in non-organic farming is ethylene oxide. It is used by non-organic farmers to ripen fruits and nuts. Organic farming can eliminate this additional risk.

So how do you know if the food you are eating is organic? Unlike in the States and Europe, the Philippines doesn’t have strict laws regarding the labeling of organic products. To be sure, buy organic products from reputable sources. When you visit organic weekend markets, chat with other buyers on their preferred brands. Ask vendors if you can visit their farms; many have an open day where visitors can inspect the farm. My dad, who is also an organic farmer, suggests, “If a product has minor insect damage on it, it is probably organic.”

For more on cancer-fighting food, grab a copy of the October issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

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