5 Things You Need to Know About Cancer & Food

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Susan Branning, manager of clinical nutrition at St. Joseph’s Health.
Susan Branning, manager of clinical nutrition at St. Joseph’s Health.

Food is fuel for your body. And just like in cars, if you put the wrong fuel inside, something unfortunate is likely to occur. Bad eating habits can lead to an array of bad medical outcomes, including cancer. What you decide to consume for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacking can have a detrimental outcome on your quality of life. Cancer risk reduction starts with a healthy diet.

“There are many food and lifestyle choices that can greatly decrease your chance of cancer,” said Susan Branning, manager of clinical nutrition at St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse. “There are various tips that we tell our patients that will enhance their quality of life surrounding their eating habits.”

Here are five things you should know about food and cancer.

1. Increase your intake of fruits and and vegetable

If you want to know if you are eating healthy, then half your plate should be incredibly bright with nutritious fruits and vegetables. The United States Department of Agriculture came out with the My Plate, which is a reminder to find healthy eating styles and build it throughout your lifetime with the right mix of food in variety, amount and nutrition.

“Fruits and vegetables are relatively lower in calories than other food and are high in fiber and loaded with vitamins and materials,” said Branning. “It has also been known to lower the risk of colon cancer and disease.”

She added that even frozen vegetables and fruits can offer healthy alternatives for those who don’t have access to fresher options.

“Eating these kinds of healthy foods also fill you up more because of the fiber which helps you avoid making poor food choices in other areas of your day,” said Branning.

2. Choose whole grains instead of refined grains

Half of your grains should be whole grains instead of the processed grains that tend to have less fiber. It can be as simple as going with 100 percent whole wheat bread or brown rice over white bread and white rice.

“Here at St. Joseph, we switched our hot sandwiches to a whole grain roll instead of a white roll and we purposely didn’t advertise it. We maybe had one person that noticed it meaning that sometimes we don’t even notice little changes as much as we think we might,” said Branning. “I know it is difficult when we have a habit of doing something for 20 to 30 years but making slight changes can make all the difference in the world.”

3. Don’t eat too much meat

Now we are not saying that you can’t enjoy an occasional trip to a Brazilian steakhouse. The problems is when it comes to red meat eaters, very few things are occasional in both quantity of times and portion sizes. If you eat meat don’t eat too much.

“We are not telling people to be vegetarians even though that would be a healthy way to go. But there has been research saying processed meats and a lot of red meats can lead to cancer. If you have too much of that, bacon, sausage and deli meats, it can be a problem,” Branning added.

The American Institute of Cancer recommend 18 ounces of red meat per week. For example, a deck of cards or the palm of a women’s hand is typically about three ounces. Many times a person will have more than half of the recommended ounces in one sitting or the whole thing.

“We know that we like our steaks big and our portions sizeable,” she said. “But if you are going to be a regular meat eater then at least go with lean meats such as ground beef or pork loin that is 93 percent lean.”

4. Include healthy fats

There is such a thing as healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, salmon, nuts and seeds. These fats are associated with improving heart health and lowering blood pressure.

“Back in the 1990s, everyone was trying to cut calories and cut fats. But they were also limiting the healthy fats that their bodies needed,” said Branning. “We have returned to the time where physicians and dietitians are explaining to people the need for these fats.”

But once again, she cautions on portion size which is the biggest culprit of how people handle tip four. For example, the recommendation for nuts is simply a handful for an entire day not half the trail mix bag.

When too much of these saturated fats are put into the body, it can clog the arteries and overload the body. “If you double and triple your recommended intake it can cause a lot of issues, weight gain and health problems,” said Branning.

5. Don’t drink your calories

Often times many beverages outside of water have a significant amount of sugar. Sugar, also known as glucose, is found in many of the foods that we consume regularly. It can consistently cause issues, especially if consumed at high amounts. Sugar is all around us. There are 156 different names for sugar so even though the public is aware of the term high fructose sugar, that doesn’t mean that a company just isn’t using another kind of sugar that is just as bad. If you walk through a grocery store you would be astonished at the percentage of food that have a high level of sugar. “People are drinking hundreds of calories per day in soda and many don’t know the adverse effects it can have on the body,” said Branning. “The easiest way to improve your diet is cut down those drinks. I don’t even recommend diet soda. If you need a little bit of taste it is better to have fruit-infused water.”