How to eat well
Senior Dietitian Chloe Ong from Parkway Cancer Centre looks at the main elements of a balanced diet.
Eating well is important in reducing the risk of getting cancer. And if you have cancer and are undergoing treatment, eating well can improve your chances of recovery. Eating well means ensuring that you have a balanced diet, which consists of sufficient carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibre. Try to include a variety of vegetables and fruits where possible, to get different types of vitamins and minerals which our body cannot produce, and also take less sugary, preserved and processed foods.
Do not be taken in, however, by claims that eating a certain food or supplement can help you avoid getting a certain type of cancer, or warnings that eating the wrong food can lead to your getting the disease. Ultimately, there are many factors leading to cancer, and it is difficult to pin down a specific item that prevents or causes cancer. You can, however, reduce your risks by having a balanced diet.
Carbohydrates are a source of energy, and are also the only nutrition that supplies energy to the brain. Carbohydrate-rich foods include rice, noodle, bread and pasta. They also include foods that are made from flour, for example, chapatti or pizza, as well as root plants like potato, sweet potato, yam and pumpkin. Fruits and milk are also sources of carbohydrates. You can eat two to three servings of fruits a day, though be aware that tropical fruits, while nutritious, usually have a higher sugar content.
Healthier sources of carbohydrates are, for example, brown rice, oats, multi-grain bread, buckwheat and quinoa.
Proteins are needed for growth. They play a critical role in helping your body to repair and regenerate cells. Protein-rich foods include meat like fish, chicken, pork, beef, eggs, and dairy products. Where possible, try to consume lean meat instead of fatty meat.
Beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and other bean products are also rich in proteins, though they may not contain all the essential amino acid that our body needs.
Fats provide energy and help the body to digest and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Consuming monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats is better than saturated fats. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats are, for example, olive oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, or avocados, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in, for example, corn oil, soybean oil, and also in some nuts and seeds.
Fibre is important for digestion. High-fibre foods include whole grain products, lentils, fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods have also been linked to a lower risk of certain cancers, for example, stomach or colon cancers.
Functional foods and superfoods
Can functional or superfoods help in fighting cancer?
Functional foods or superfoods usually refer to foods that contains higher nutritional values than other foods. They may help to improve immunity, thus reducing the risk of getting certain illnesses.
It is important to remember that although functional foods or superfoods have better nutritional values than other foods, it is recommended to use them on top of a balanced diet.
You can include superfoods in your daily diet in many ways:
- Include garlic or ginger, which have anti-bacterial properties, in your cooking. They can also help to improve immunity.
- Use natural spices such as tumeric, cloves, coriander, lemongrass and curry powder in your cooking or for marination. They generally have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. You can also add cinnamon and peppermint to your desserts or drinks.
- Probiotics, which are found in yoghurt and some fermented food, for example, tempeh, sauerkraut and miso, contain good bacteria that help keep the intestinal system healthy, and strengthens your immunity.
- Oats are a rich source of dietary fibre, vitamin B group, magnesium and zinc. They contain an extensive range of nutrients, including some that lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Nuts and seeds are rich in minerals and vitamins. The unsaturated fats found in these foods are beneficial to your cardiovascular well-being.
- Berries are low in calories but high in fibre, and contain different types of vitamins and minerals. They also contain high levels of phytochemicals and flavonoids that can lower the risk of cancer and certain chronic diseases, and also have anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties.
It is good to include some superfoods in your diet, or use them as alternatives to other ingredients in a balanced diet. However, they should not be consumed blindly. No matter what benefits a food may bring, overconsumption may have adverse effects. Ultimately, you need to eat a variety of foods to ensure you get all the different nutrients.
Written by Kok Bee Eng
Tags: cancer diet & nutrition, healthy food & cooking, reduce cancer risk