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Helping prevent cancer, continued

Norleena Gullett, MD

blog processed foods

As I said in my last blog post, avoid processed foods. Coincidentally, processed foods are a hot topic lately because of the release of Fed Up, a documentary investigating the obesity crisis. I have yet to see it but am thrilled by the reviews.

Check out the film’s tag line: “Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong.”

I agree. Health professionals have pushed the “low fat” ideology for many years, scaring the public into consuming more sugar and calories, and causing obesity rates to skyrocket. Why is diet important for cancer prevention? Because 30-50 percent of cancers are attributable to food choice, nutrition and lack of physical activity, according to current estimates.i If everything the public has been told about these topics is not based on valid medical research, how are we supposed to make informed food choices to help maintain a lean body weight? A lean body weight lowers our cancer risk.

Processed foods are all the food products you see on grocery store shelves or commercials on TV. These items are not “food” in the anthropologic sense, but products that were created in a lab to be sold for profit. It is important to me to avoid processed foods and I counsel my patients to do the same. Why? Processed foods are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and are nutritionally depleted. Read: they do not give you the nutrients you need to thrive.

However, rather than focus on what not to eat, let’s focus on what you should eat: fruits and vegetables. Eat them all day long, every time you put something in your mouth. Am I repeating myself?

Diets high in vegetables and fruits (more than 14 ounces/day) may prevent at least 20 percent of all cancers.ii, iii, iv Some of the most convincing evidence of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables shows a reduced risk of gastrointestinal cancers, which include oral, throat, esophageal, stomach and colorectal cancers.v Interestingly, studies show that vegetables are more effective than fruits in cancer prevention.

So, are you “fed up”? My advice is to stop eating “food” that comes in a shiny bright package and has its own advertising budget, and start eating fruits and vegetables. I’ll let you know what I think of the film.



i Gullett NP, Ruhul Amin AR, Bayraktar S, et al. Cancer prevention with natural compounds. Seminars in Oncology. 7(3): 258-81, 2010.

ii Wiseman M. The Second World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Expert Report. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67, 253–256, 2008.

iii Glade MJ. Food, nutrition, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research, 1997. Nutrition 15: 523-526, 1999

iv World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: American Institute for Cancer Research, 2007.

v Terry P, Giovannucci E, Michels KB, Bergkvist L, Hansen H, Holmberg L, Wolk A. Fruit, vegetables, dietary fiber, and risk of colorectal cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 93: 525-533, 2001

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