Millions of people are diagnosed with cancer each year, the leading cause of death worldwide. Therefore, both the prevention of the disease and its treatment are so important. In this context, an adequate diet, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are factors that reduce the risk of suffering from it and improve the prognosis.
As we said, a healthy diet is of great importance to prevent many types of cancer. However, there are no miracle foods that cure or prevent its appearance. Nor are there ingredients in the diet that directly cause it: it is the set of our eating habits that reduces or increases the chances of falling ill.
Throughout the following lines, readers will observe that, in general, the phrases used when giving recommendations on diet and cancer are not very conclusive; the words “seems” or “might” are repeated constantly. This is because more research is needed to confirm these findings and clarify the true impact of the diet.
Some guidelines for preparing a menu that prevents cancer
First of all, it is important to maintain a healthy weight; Excess body fat and associated pathologies, such as insulin resistance, are associated with an increased risk of thyroid, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, colon, kidney, breast, endometrial or prostate cancer. In addition, they seem to promote metastasis in some tumors, such as lung cancer.
Regarding the nutrients and foods that help prevent it, the diet should be rich in fiber (fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains). Often including these foods on the menu is also associated with a lower risk of obesity.
Specifically, the consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the chances of developing various types of cancer, such as mouth and esophageal cancer, while whole grains can help prevent colorectal cancer. Apart from fiber, these foods contain antioxidants that could also protect the body.
In addition, the consumption of foods high in poor quality fats (saturated and trans fats), starches and sugars should be limited. This is the case of ultra-processed foods (energy drinks, sausages, lasagna, industrial pizzas, French fries, etc.) and red and processed meat (such as sausages), associated with an increased risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.
Regarding the different types of diet, the Mediterranean stands out for its virtues, which seems to reduce the chances of developing breast and colon cancer. It is characterized by the use of virgin olive oil as a fundamental source of fat; a high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes; a moderate consumption of fish and dairy products; and little quantity of red or processed meats.
On the contrary, a Western diet with abundant red and processed meats, sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods would increase the chances of suffering from these diseases.
Diet does not cure, but it does improve the patient’s quality of life
It seems more or less evident that a balanced diet reduces the risk of cancer, but it does not prevent it. Once the disease appears, it can help, combined with the appropriate medical treatment, to improve the patient’s prognosis and quality of life. In addition, it can help mitigate some side effects of treatments and reduce the risk of infections.
It is common for cancer patients to suffer from malnutrition due to the treatments and the course of the pathology itself. Avoiding or reducing it is important, since it improves the prognosis. It is very important to meet the energy requirements in these people and, especially, protein.
The latter are in charge of repairing the tissues, which in cancer patients can be damaged due to surgery, including chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry and legumes are good sources of protein. These repair processes also require an extra energy input. When the required intake cannot be reached –for example, due to lack of appetite–, the diet should include foods with a high energy density, such as dried fruit or smoothies. You could even replace whole grains with refined grains, since the fiber generates satiety.
In short, the diet must be adapted to the individual, their needs and their condition. Thus, in patients with nausea and vomiting, cold and light foods such as cold mashed fruit, yogurt or pasta or rice salads are usually well tolerated. If the patient experiences any difficulty swallowing, it may be useful to mash the food and add thickeners and gelling agents to improve the texture in order to avoid resorting to the use of a tube to administer the food.
By way of conclusion, it should be remembered that, although diet does not cure cancer, it improves the prognosis and helps prevent it, so investment in research should be a priority.