World Cancer Day is an international day, which is marked on 4th February to increase awareness of cancer, and to encourage its prevention, early detection, and treatment. Every year the theme has its own theme. The theme for World Cancer Day 2019 is – ‘I am and I will’. The estimated number of deaths due to cancer in 2018 was 9.5 million, which amounts to a whopping 26,000 deaths a day. This number is expected to increase as environmental stresses increase, air quality worsens, lifestyles and eating habits too!.
Substances that induce free radical damage and promote cancerous cells are called carcinogens. Carcinogens can be different agents like:
- Physical carcinogens (ultraviolet and ionizing radiations)
- Biological carcinogens (certain bacteria, viruses, and parasites)
- Chemical carcinogens (synthetic products created by industry, components of smoke, pesticide residues, chemicals used in the food industry etc).
Apart from the above, there are some factors which increase cancer risk, these include:
- increasing age
- stressful lifestyle associated with poor nutritional status owing to low fruit & vegetable intake
- use of tobacco, alcohol
- chronic infections
- being overweight too increases the risk of breast, esophageal, colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancer.
Foods which can increase the risk of cancers of different types include:
Charred meats: When red meat and processed meats are grilled to a high temperature and charred, it produces DNA damaging heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. So cook on medium heat, flipping at intervals; baking at moderate temperature and broiling are also safe cooking methods.
Microwavable popcorn: The bag of microwavable popcorns is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is a likely carcinogen. The corn kernels are genetically modified and the fumes released from the artificial butter contain diacetyl and are toxic to humans. So make your popcorns the traditional way.
Hydrogenated fats: Change the shape of cellular membranes and promote the growth of abnormal cells, these are definitely very harmful. These should be replaced with a variety of healthier fats & oils like desi ghee, coconut oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil etc used in moderation.
Sodas: Sodas are a deadly concoction of harmful colors, preservatives loaded with tons of sugar and hidden sugars. To remain loyal to the good, old nimboo-pani or nimboo soda; adding a little bit of sugar is not harmful. What is harmful is the hidden sugar added by the manufacturers in processed and packaged foods.
Packaged foods containing hidden sugars: Hidden sugars like high fructose corn syrup are one of the major cancer-causing foods which leads to spikes in serum insulin and also feeds cancer cells. All sources of hidden sugars like bakeries, confectionaries, biscuits, ready to eat breakfast cereals, energy bars and so-called health drinks etc should be avoided.
Artificial sweeteners: Switching to artificial sweeteners to save some calories is not a wise decision either. Several studies have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in lab studies.
Canned foods: The lining of most cans contain bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to increase cancer risk. Many plastic packaging also contains BPA. Of canned goods, tomatoes and its products are the worst because their acidity causes more BPA to leach into the food.
Highly salted foods: Regular consumption of highly salted foods like cured meats, salted fish etc can lead to stomach cancer by damaging the stomach lining and causing inflammation. Always opt for fresh and local produce.
Processed & smoked meats: Excess consumption of processed meats including ham, bacon, sausages, and salami can increase the risk of some cancers. When smoked foods are cooked at high temperatures, the nitrates present in them (that have been added to prolong shelf life) convert into the more dangerous nitrites.
Alcohol: Several studies have established the link between alcohol intake and cancer through the exact mechanism is not understood. It could be through promoting weight gain. Moderation in consumption is critical to minimize its damaging effects.
Pesticide residues in foods have adverse health effects and may increase the risk of cancers. One simple way to eliminate some pesticide residue is to dip your fruits, vegetable and fresh produce in a vessel containing 4 parts water and 1 part vinegar for about 20 minutes and then rinse with clean water.
There are some food items that help in preventing the growth of cancer cells. These include turmeric, garlic, citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, purple-red fruits & veggies, high-fiber whole grains, nuts & seeds, beans, leafy veggies etc. Regular consumption of these, abstinence from smoking, alcohol and an overall healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce cancer risk.