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Cancer: what you eat can affect your risk

Mom may have always told you that broccoli was good for you, but she may not have known why. Scientists today continue to back up Mom's claims about the important role that nutrition plays in your health. Of particular interest is how the foods you eat affect your risk for the most common types of cancer, such as those of the lung, prostate, breast, and colon.

Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins, minerals, and other substances that help your body ward off cancer. Studies suggest that people who consume more fruits and vegetables have half the risk of developing cancer and a lower death rate from cancer. For example, deep green and orange vegetables, such as broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots, may help protect against prostate cancer and lung cancer. Brussels sprouts and other cabbage-family members have been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. Citrus is thought to help inhibit the formation of tumors. The list of beneficial effects goes on and on.

Researchers continue to zero in on the chemical properties of fruits and vegetables that make them so effective in cancer prevention. But you don't have to wait for the results of scientific studies before deciding which fruits and vegetables to eat. Just aim for five or more servings a day as recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid, and make sure you go for variety.

An increased risk of breast cancer has been linked to drinking alcoholic beverages. In a review of several studies, researchers found that women who had two to five drinks a day increased their risk by 40 percent. The American Cancer Society warns that having just a few drinks a week may increase your risk. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, you may want to consider abstaining from alcohol. Colon cancer has also been associated with drinking. In general, it is wise to limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Studies show that a high fiber intake may reduce your risk of colon cancer. That's because fiber helps food go more quickly through your digestive system, decreases your absorption of fat and reduces the power of bile acids (substances that help convert fats). Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products such as breads and cereals; it's best to get your fiber from these foods rather than supplements, as it may be a combination of the fiber with other nutrients in the foods that offers protection against cancer. Furthermore, grains contain vitamins and minerals thought to help decrease your risk of colorectal, prostate, and lung cancers.

A diet high in red meat and fat has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and saturated fat has been implicated as increasing the risk of prostate cancer. Scientists have also pointed at high-fat diets as possible culprits in the development of breast cancer. Try to maintain a low-fat diet; that means eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products and less red meat and high-fat dairy products.

Just remember that it's never too late to benefit from improving your eating habits.

The Baptist Health Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or fax (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of Baptist Health Cancer Care.