What You Put on Your Plate Matters

April is daffodil month. Every April the Canadian Cancer Society aims to bringing awareness to cancer and to help support those who are living with cancer. All of us have been touched in some way by this terrible disease.  While there is no one “superfood” that will prevent cancer. There is plenty of research to support a diet that is plant base centered helps lower the risk of most preventable cancers.


Part of my job as a clinical dietitian, is in the oncology department. While “no one shoe fits all” is true there is a common theme that I typically see in my everyday role as an oncology dietitian. Navigating the world of nutrition can be challenging and is ever changing with research. Given that it is April is cancer awareness month I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss frequently asked questions that I regularly get asked in the oncology department.


Should I eat organically grown food?

First of all, the benefits of eating vegetables and fruit regardless of the growing methods out weights the risks. Choosing to eat organic is a personal choice. Some reasons people chose to eat for health, environment, and/or taste. While the evidence that organic foods are healthier are limited, some studies suggest organically grown foods are better for our overall health. When it comes to the nutrient value of foods a lot of factors come into play. For example;  soil, distance travelled, time of harvest all affect the nutrient value of our fruits and vegetables. Another thing to remember is not all organic foods are healthy. Some packaged foods that contain organic ingredients also contain sugar and sodium. The process of becoming organic is lengthly and expensive. A lot of small farmers follow the organic farming principles but do not go through the rigourus process of becoming certified. The next time your at the farmers market talk to your farmer and ask about their growing methods.

roasted beet and quinoa salad2

If you are choosing to buy organic for health reasons only but find the cost of buying organic burning a hole in your wallet you can chose to purchase foods from the Environmental working Group’s (EWG) dirty dozen and clean fifteen list. The dirty dozen is a list of twelve crops that are highly contaminated with pesticides. While the clean fifteen is a list of 15 crops that are lower in pesticides.

Does red meat cause cancer?

Late last year the World Health Organization (WHO) made a shocking statement. Processed meat causes cancer. This statement sent everyone into a frenzy. The WHO released findings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC reviewed over 800 studies and concluded that for every 50 grams of processed meat, 2-3 slices of bacon or 1 hotdog, your risk of developing colon cancer increased by 17 percent. In addition to processed meats they concluded that red meat as a probable cause. For every 100 grams of red eat consumed your risk of developing cancer increased by 18 percent. These numbers are pretty alarming.  So you ask is there truth to this statement. It’s no secret, processed meats that is bacon, deli style meats including turkey, ham, roast beef, bologna, salami and pepperoni have been linked to colorectal cancer for years.  So what’s the big deal about processed meats other than the fact that they are high in salt. The problem is the nitrites and nitroso used to preserve processed meats damages the digestive tract. The evidence on red meat remains unclear but experts, including myself, suggest we limit them to 1-2 times a week. Do I think you should avoid bacon. No. But if you eat processed meats regularly, like everyday, I strongly suggest you reconsider .  When it comes to nutrition most of the studies are “observational” studies. That is they make associations. So no I don’t think that a slice of bacon or steak here or there will cause colon cancer .

Does sugar feed cancer ?

This may be the number 1 question I get in the oncology department. Like healthy cells, cancer cells need oxygen and energy to grow. Sugar is the main energy source for all cells including cancer cells. Many foods such as vegetables and fruit contain natural sugars as well as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Research suggests that a diet high in refined sugars may cause an inflammatory process in our body leading to chronic diseases like cancer. Furthermore, there is no nutritional value in highly refined scary products and lots of empty calories, leading to weight gain. Research does suggest achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight does play an important role in preventing chronic diseases such as cancer.

So what should one eat. Here is my advice:

As a dietitian, I promote eating lots of plant foods. An easy rule to remember is to eat like a rainbow, the more color the better. Try to eat at least one green leafy such as a green salad, broccoli, swiss chard, and/or kale. A rule of thumb that I like to follow is fill half your plate with vegetables. Another great way to increase your vegetable intake and reduce your meat consumption is to go meatless at least 1 day a week. A family favourite are these vegan lentil sloppy joe’s, This roasted beet salad is a regular on our weekly meal plan. Eating a diet that is plant based also will help you achieve and maintain a healthy body.

vegan lentil sloppy joes

Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Limit ultra processed foods. You know what they say if your grandma wouldn’t eat than neither should you. Now let’s face it, its pretty time consuming to make your food from scratch.  A rule that I try to live buy is if the package has more than 5 ingredients or if I don’t recognize an ingredient than it does not belong in my shopping cart. A great way to reduce your intake of processed foods is to make your food.

Exercise daily. Exercise does not mean you have to run a marathon. Find something you like and make it a priority.

Remember we don’t have control over our genetics but we do have control over what we put in our bodies. Take control and fill your plate plant based foods that are rich high in antioxidants, fibre and taste.


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