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Cancer-proof your life

You have a chance to reduce your risk of cancer every day. The main ingredients of a cancer-preventive lifestyle? Exercising, not smoking and eating right. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 30 percent of cancer deaths are due to smoking and 5 percent to lack of exercise. Another 30 percent are due to obesity and eating the wrong foods.

So which are the right foods? Those that come from plant sources. Plant foods are important to cancer prevention for several reasons.

  1. Fruits, vegetables, beans and grains are full of fiber. Fiber helps protect us from cancer by moving food quickly through the colon. The faster food moves through the digestive system, the less time there is for potential carcinogens to do harm.
    The government’s National Cancer Institute estimates that Americans eat about 11 grams of fiber daily. You should aim for at least double that amount, or about eight servings a day of fiber-rich foods. Dried prunes, brown rice, beans, peas, baked potatoes with skin, apples and whole-wheat bread are good choices.
  2. Foods from plant sources are rich in vitamins. Certain vitamins, notably A, C and E, are antioxidants. That means they counteract the damage done by harmful molecules called free radicals. Free-radical damage can lead to heart attack and stroke as well as cancer.
    Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants. If you’re not already doing so, try to eat at least three servings of vegetables and two of fruit each day. Good choices include broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, red and green peppers, strawberries and oranges. Vitamin E is found primarily in wheat germ, grains, seeds, nuts and oils made from seeds and nuts.
  3. Plant foods contain phytochemicals. These natural chemical substances work in different ways to protect against cancer. Some are antioxidants. Others prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Still others help the body get rid of cancer-causing substances.
    Besides eating a wide variety of grains, fruits and vegetables (including onions, garlic and chives), consider adding soybeans to your diet. Several studies show that the phytochemicals in soy provide protection from cancer, heart disease and even the symptoms of menopause. You can buy many foods made with soy in the supermarket.
  4. Most foods that come from plants are low in saturated fat. That’s a plus because saturated fat—especially that found in meat —has been linked to cancer and other diseases. Scientists think that saturated fat may increase cancer risk by releasing hormones that contribute to the development of tumors. Another theory: Fatty tissues store carcinogens. It’s not that you have to eliminate meat from your diet. Just choose low-fat meats and limit portions to three ounces or less.
    You have the power to decrease your risk of cancer. Start using it now.