Preventing cancer the easy way

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

February 2008

Some ways of preventing cancer are really difficult: stop smoking and get back to your normal weight. The fact that nearly one-quarter of Americans still smoke makes it obvious that quitting is tough. The association of cancer and obesity is much more recent but losing weight is harder to do for most people than quitting smoking is. It comes as a kind of relief to know that one simple manipulation of your diet can lower your risk of several of the most common types of cancer.

There's a mountain of evidence that eating more fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cancer and it's not just some scientist's idea of a statistically significant difference — meaningful to him or her but not to the rest of us. Lung cancer is the biggie, carrying off more of us than any other cancer. Persons who had the most beans in their diet lowered their risk by nearly half, 46 percent, compared with a group that ate the least. (Alright, so beans don't excite you. Keep reading.) Cancer of the pancreas is one of those diseases that have no early warning symptoms and it therefore has a notoriously low survival rate. Those with a high intake of highly colored vegetables — the ones with lots of yellow, orange and dark green — reduced their risk of pancreatic cancer by about half. Onions did the same in a study of colon cancer, which is almost as common as lung cancer.

About a dozen kinds of cancer, especially those of the mouth and the rest of the intestinal tract, are much less common wherever the intake of fruits and vegetables is high.

The likelihood of getting prostate cancer is very low in two very different population groups, the Chinese and the Italians. What they share, however, is a diet that is high in garlic. Their high intake of other plant foods also contributes to their low rates of cancer.

Only about 20 percent of Americans get the recommended 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables so I'd like to offer some suggestions that will help you to make the transition.

There are two modern conveniences that make it a snap: frozen foods and microwave ovens. You can microwave some frozen mixed vegetables in about two minutes and serve them in place of the potato, noodles or rice that you're used to. For a filling quickie lunch add a side of leftover meat or fish, or some pre-cooked turkey or chicken.

For a healthy breakfast or lunch, sauté some frozen veggies in a little olive oil and scramble in a couple of eggs. Liven up one of those packaged green salads with olives, nuts or mandarin orange slices.

Keep a bowl of fresh broccoli pieces or baby carrots in the refrigerator and quit buying cookies for snacks. Have a bowl of fresh fruit in the TV room.

About those beans. You'll hardly notice them in soups and salads, so give them a try.

See? That wasn't so hard!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.