Nutrition guidelines can seem complicated. With so many guidelines to remember, a City of Hope expert offers one central idea for reducing cancer risk: Eat a rainbow.
That means consuming a regular array of fruits and vegetables of different colors. “Nutrition is a rather young science, so we are constantly hearing about new, and sometimes conflicting, discoveries,” said Laura Dorr-Uyemura, R.D., director of clinical nutrition at City of Hope, “but we do know that it is important to eat a plant-based diet consisting of many fruits and vegetables; optimally five or more servings a day, and the more variety the better.”
Cancer today remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, and some research has linked eating habits to cancer risk. Researchers are always looking for new strategies to lower risk, and some ways may include common foods found right in the supermarket.
Switching from refined to whole grains may lower cancer risk, Dorr-Uyemura said. Limiting red-meat intake and getting protein from other sources, such as seafood, poultry and legumes (beans, lentils and similar foods) also may help.
Dorr-Uyemura also noted that one group of food additives to watch for is nitrates, which are found in processed meats.
“While nitrates are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, there is supporting research that says nitrates are carcinogenic substances,” she said. When consuming nitrates, it is best to pair them with foods rich in the antioxidant vitamin C, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which help to protect against the nitrates.
What about organically grown foods? According to Dorr-Uyemura, while eating organic plants and meats may offer some benefits, research has not shown it lowers cancer risk.
“One should also consider the cost and availability of these foods,” Dorr-Uyemura said. Organically grown foods generally cost more than other foods and may be transported from other countries because they are not in season locally, possibly diminishing their nutritional value.
Finally, Dorr-Uyemura discourages people from giving up on their favorite foods.
“Everything in moderation is the key,” she said. “One can have too much of a good thing, so eat a broad range of foods because there isn’t a single item that will supply all the nutrients we need.”