Guest post by Lee Crosby, R.D.
In 2010, my doctor found some suspicious spots in my left breast. A biopsy showed they weren’t cancer, but that I had a higher risk for cancer down the road. My doctor also found a “thickened” area in my right breast she wanted to keep an eye on.
I was only 30 years old, so that got my attention! I was determined to do everything I could to reduce my future risk. While no eating pattern gives 100 percent protection against cancer, I was impressed by research showing that plant-based diets cut cancer risk. I also took up exercise. And all was well for many months.
Then I fell off the wagon. It’s a long story, but I stopped exercising and went back to eating meat. And that "thickened" area they’d been following—which had been stable when I was plant-based. It doubled in size in just four months of eating meat.
Within a week, I was under the knife having a lumpectomy. The results came back “atypical,” or one step before cancer.
Needless to say, I got right back to eating a plant-based diet! I even went back to school to become a registered dietitian, having personally experienced the power of nutrition. It’s been four years since my last surgery, and so far all reports are clear.
While having breast issues was stressful, I’m grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained about reducing breast cancer risk, and I try to pass it along as useful tips for my family, friends, and patients. While research is still developing in the field of diet and disease prevention, this much I know for sure: Wearing a pink ribbon to raise awareness of breast cancer is good, but doing what we can to reduce our risk of getting the disease or having a recurrence is even better.
In fact, The World Health organization finds a healthful diet and lifestyle can help reduce overall cancer risk by 30 percent. Of course, most forms of cancer still result from random mutations—no one is ever to blame for cancer! But thankfully, there are plenty of steps we can take to fight back.
Here are a few ways to start:
- Eat Pink. (And orange and red and green and purple!) By eating most colors of the nutrition rainbow each day, you’ll consume a variety of phytochemicals, like sulforaphane, allyl sulfides, and anthocyanins, which team up to produce healthy genetic material, reduce cell division, and destroy free radicals. While multivitamins and supplements provide a safeguard for nutrients we can easily fall short on, like vitamin D, they don’t provide our bodies with the full spectrum of anti-cancer compounds we can easily get from colorful plant foods.
Photo credit: Steve@CommercialImage.net
Rx: Aim to eat seven colors of the nutrition rainbow each day. To get started, try incorporating a few different colors of plant-based foods—like leafy greens, carrots, onions, berries, and beans—into your daily meals. Then experiment with a new vegetable, like purple cauliflower, butternut squash, or Daikon radish, each week.
- Fill Up with Fiber. Fiber—also known as plant roughage—helps support a healthy gut and removes carcinogens, or cancer-forming compounds, from the body. As a bonus, fiber also helps keep us "regular."
Most Americans get about 16 grams of daily fiber, but we should aim for 35 to 40 grams.
Beans, peas, and lentils are fiber superstars! However, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also great sources of fiber.
Photo credit: Kathy Patalsky
Rx: Consume at least 35 to 40 grams of fiber a day. Try experimenting with apples, lentils, and soybeans (edamame), which double as quick snacks and add-ons to salads and DIY-meals.
- Pack In Produce. Try to eat two pounds of fresh or frozen produce a day. In fact, some days I aim to eat two pounds of vegetables a day, with fruit on top of that. By shooting for two pounds of vegetables, I know my body is getting plenty of protective phytonutrients without a lot of calories. And I’m never hungry!
In fact, the meal we showcase on WJLA’s Good Morning Washington has three or four pounds of produce but less than 1,600 calories. It also has 55 grams of protein, 72 grams of fiber, four times the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamins A, C, and K, and twice the RDI of folate, magnesium, and selenium. Studies find women with the highest intake of carotenoids—think orange and green vegetables—are less likely to develop breast cancer.
Photo credit: Steve@CommercialImage.net
Rx: Aim to eat two pounds of produce a day, which is the equivalent to six to eight cups of fruits and vegetables. One easy way to start is by adding leafy greens and vegetables to every meal—even breakfast!
So in addition to donning a pink ribbon this month, try these take-home tips:
- Aim to eat seven colors of the nutrition rainbow each day.
- Fill up with 40 grams of daily fiber.
- Eat two pounds of produce most days of the week.
For additional resources, visit BarnardMedical.org to sign up for free cooking and nutrition education classes or to participate in a free online nutrition program, the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart, which goes live the first day of every month.
The rock star Tom Petty—whose more than 40-year career with his band The Heartbreakers included hits like The Waiting and Into the Great Wide Open—died from cardiac arrest yesterday at the age of 66. I hope that his cardiac arrest will serve as a reminder of the need for action against heart disease—the No. 1 killer in America—and that his millions of Heartbreakers fans will indeed take the message to heart.
Research shows that the most effective steps for fighting heart disease include managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, eating better, and losing weight. These steps can all be achieved through a healthy plant-based diet. Meat, dairy products, eggs, and fatty snack foods harbor the saturated fats and trans fats that push cholesterol into the blood stream. Avoiding animal products and other fatty foods allows arteries to clean themselves out.
To learn more about preventing and reversing heart disease with a plant-based diet, visit PCRM.org/HeartDisease.
How did a recent research review dupe Americans into believing that cholesterol isn’t a health concern? Ten of the 12 included studies were funded by the egg industry. Take a look:
The systematic review was limited to studies published after 2003, when nearly all cholesterol studies were funded by the egg industry, in contrast to earlier years when governmental bodies played a bigger role in cholesterol research. Of 12 included studies, 10 were funded by the egg industry seeking to make cholesterol look innocuous.
Want to learn more about how faulty nutrition studies harm public health? Read the Misuse of Meta-analysis in Nutrition Research, my new JAMA commentary with Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Eric L. Ding, Sc.D., from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Do you suffer from “protein anxiety?” It’s a condition commonly seen in people who have never had a protein deficiency, but worry endlessly that they’re not getting enough. They pile on the meat, fish, eggs, or cheese, trying to avert an imaginary lack of protein.
Of course, the body needs some protein to build and repair body tissues. But protein is widely available in beans, vegetables, and grains. It is almost impossible not to get all the protein you need, even without eating meat, dairy, or eggs.
Here are the numbers: An average women needs about 46 grams of protein per day; the average man about 56. If a person were to eat nothing but broccoli for a day, a 2,000-calorie diet would provide a whopping 146 grams of protein. Yes, green vegetables are loaded with protein. A person eating only lentils would get even more—2,000 calories’ worth of lentils pack 157 grams. Of course, no one would eat only broccoli or only lentils, and it is much better to combine foods—beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits—to get complete nutrition. The point is that plant-based foods clearly provide abundant protein.
The average American actually consumes too much protein, according to the CDC, with most people getting nearly double the amount they actually need. And more isn’t better. When protein comes from animal products—which are high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol—diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease often follow.
So how much protein do you really need?
You can calculate your daily requirement using this calculator, or multiply your weight (in pounds) by 0.36 to calculate the grams of protein you need in a day. For example, someone who weighs 140 pounds needs about 50 grams of protein per day. And once you’ve calculated it, forget it. There is no need for “protein anxiety.” Because a varied plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, and beans can easily meet your daily protein needs, without the risks of animal products. Read our infographic to below to see how it all adds up!
The new documentary What the Health is fueling an important conversation about the health risks of hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats. Here at the Physicians Committee, we’ve been urging people to “drop the hot dog” and “ban the bacon” for years. Now, a new report—that analyzed 99 studies including data on 29 million people—adds even more evidence showing that it’s unwise to deny the dangers of processed meat.
The authors of “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Colorectal Cancer,” the new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, concluded that “consumption of processed meat is a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.” The report also found that eating high amounts of red meat and being overweight or obese can increase colorectal cancer risk.
There is good news. The report concluded that eating approximately three servings of whole grains, such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread, daily reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent.
Visit DropTheHotDog.org to learn more about the dangers of processed meats.
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