Could this diet defend against cancer?

salad-2068220_1920We've all heard the saying—we are what we eat. The food we put in our bodies is strongly linked to our health. While no food or nutrient offers a cure-all solution against disease, proper nutrition can help prevent many chronic diseases, including cancer.

To help individuals decide what to eat to optimize their health and lower their risks of cancer and other diseases, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) developed the Cancer Defense Diet, offering nutrition advice and a nutrition calculator to help people determine if they are eating the right foods, according to a February 24 announcement.

Foods are complex and nutrients don’t work in isolation, according to EWG Senior Scientist Curt Della Valle, Ph.D., director of the organization's Cancer Prevention Initiative, who says health benefits arise from the interactions and synergies among foods and the nutrients they contain.

Della Valle explained that fruits and vegetables provide not only nutrients, but phytochemicals—compounds plants produce to protect themselves from disease that can also protect people who eat them. Nutrients and phytochemicals can help defend cells against the processes, mechanisms, and characteristics that make cancer cells different from normal cells. These hallmarks define how cancer cells go rogue and no longer listen to the body’s commands to grow and divide, instead forming tumors and invading other parts of the body.

Consumers are becoming more aware that food preparation and pairings in meals matter. EWG provides tips, where sound science exists, on enhancing nutrients’ and phytochemicals’ bioavailability.

Mediterranean diets and other diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are linked to a decreased risk of developing many types of cancer, such as colorectal, liver, lung, pancreas, and head and neck cancers. Conversely, Western diets high in red and processed meats have been linked to increased risks of lung, colorectal, gastric, and other digestive system cancers.

The EWG's Cancer Defense Diet focuses on a few keys to good nutrition, including eating a variety of plant-based foods and incorporating cancer-fighting nutrients, especially carotenoids including lycopene and beta-carotene found in colorful fruits and vegetables. The group also offers recommendations for protein and carbohydrate intake, as well as recipes and shopping tips.

Click here to learn about the new diet guidelines and use the nutrition calculator to determine how your diet stacks up.