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Let’s Talk About Cancer, Food and Exercise

By Charlyn Fargo

I often have clients come in asking what they should eat to prevent cancer. What’s important to prevent nearly any disease is a healthy diet. That translates to lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy. I’m not a proponent of eliminating any food group from your meals.

The American Institute for Cancer Research offers a few insights into common myths surrounding cancer.

Here are a few of the most popular:

Myth: Cancer is caused by inherited genes, so there’s nothing you can do about it.

Actually, 40% of cancer cases are preventable by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being more active and not smoking. Only 5-10% of cancers are caused by genetic syndromes, according to the institute.

Myth: Soy can increase your risk for cancer.

Research shows that soy foods in moderation are safe for those diagnosed with cancer and those without cancer. Soy foods contain fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals that can help prevent cancer.

Myth: There is not enough evidence to link stress and cancer risk.

Actually, this one isn’t a myth; the link between stress and cancer remains unproven.

Myth: Artificial sweeteners are linked to increased cancer risk.

The truth is there is no strong evidence that links sweeteners, such as saccharin and aspartame, to cancer.

Myth: Coffee is cancer-fighting.

Good news for coffee drinkers: Strong evidence shows that coffee actually reduces the risk for endometrial and liver cancers.

Myth: Eating organic foods versus conventionally grown produce offers you protection against cancer.

The most important thing is to eat fruits and vegetables – more than you do now. There is no strong evidence to support the idea that organic foods offer additional protection against cancer over conventionally grown foods.

It’s Never Too Late To Exercise

Here’s proof that it’s never too late to start that walk or trip to the gym: In a new study, the American Institute for Cancer Research found that exercise helped prevent and slow breast tumor growth – even among women who had been diagnosed and were waiting for surgery.

Granted, this was a small study – only 49 women – but it convinced me that there is power in that morning walk. I come from a genetic pool of breast cancer; my mother, a survivor, had it twice. Her mother died too young to know. So, I’m attentive to all things related to breast cancer.

This study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, found that exercise had a direct biological effect on breast cancer tumors. Researchers also found that exercise protects against postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer and endometrial cancer.

As the study reports, “Women in the exercise group did both strength training and moderate-level aerobic activity – like walking – at two weekly trainer-led sessions and unsupervised at home. The control group focused on relaxation and visualization techniques.” The exercise group increased their activity by an average of 203 minutes a week, compared with 23 minutes in the control group.

After 29 days, exercise appeared to impact tumor gene expression, especially in pathways involved in inflammation and immune regulation.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.

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