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5 cancer-fighting food habits

March is National Nutrition Month—a nutrition education campaign focused on the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.

The food choices you make affect nearly every aspect of your health—from sleep quality and skin appearance to your mood. Your diet over the long term can also affect your risk of developing certain critical illnesses—including cancer.1

While many cases of cancer are caused by genetics or unavoidable environmental factors, the American Cancer Society says that at least 42% of new cancers in the U.S.—about 729,000 cases in 2018—are potentially avoidable.1

The American Cancer Society goes on to say that 18% of cancer deaths are caused by a combination of excess body weight, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and poor nutrition.1

And for the person who is facing a cancer diagnosis, nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, “Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger.”2 Eating well while you’re being treated for cancer may help you:3

  • Feel better.
  • Keep up your energy and strength.
  • Maintain your weight and body’s nutrients.
  • Better tolerate the side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Lower your risk of infection.
  • Heal and recover faster.

At Washington National, we’re committed to helping our policyholders prevent and fight cancer.

Check out these five cancer-fighting food habits that you can easily start implementing today!

  1. Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day

    Focus on colorful fruits and veggies, which have the highest nutritional content. Here are some super foods that have amazing cancer-fighting properties:4

    • Tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C and lycopene.
    • Broccoli, red cabbage, cauliflower, kale, red beets and brussel sprouts are fortified with healthy phytochemicals.
    • Spinach leaves hold cancer-curbing antioxidants.
    • Ward off digestive and breast cancers by eating beans.
    • The capsaicin in hot red peppers can help defeat carcinogens.
    • Part of the onion family, garlic may help guard against breast cancer.
    • The vitamin C in oranges boosts the immune system. Oranges also contain cancer-fighting limonoids.
    • Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and blackberries—along with red and purple grapes—contain antioxidants.
    • Fiber-rich foods, such as whole wheat, grains, fortified cereals and apples can help prevent pancreatic and stomach cancers while ridding the body of toxins.
  2. Prepare vegetables correctly

    When preparing veggies, preserve water-soluble vitamins and other nutrients by steaming them. Boiling vegetables for long periods can leach out healthy ingredients. Here are more tips to help you avoid vitamin loss:5

    • Leave the peel—it contains vitamins and fiber.
    • Use a sharp knife. A blunt knife can cause cell damage and vitamin C loss.
    • Cook veggies as soon as they’re prepared. Don’t soak them in water as water-soluble vitamins (such as B and C) will be lost.
    • Use a small amount of water to steam vegetables. You can even save the cooking water for soups, stocks, gravies or drinks.
  3. Keep yourself well hydrated

    Staying hydrated on water and other fluids may help reduce your risk of bladder and intestinal cancers.

    • A person should drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day to be sure that all the body cells get the fluid they need.6
    • When you drink tea, you get a healthy dose of catechins, which are antioxidants that are thought to block cell damage that can lead to cancer. Green tea, in particular, provides many other protective phytochemicals. Catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a very potent antioxidant that’s found in green tea.7
  4. Maintain a healthy weight

    Obesity is linked with higher rates of certain cancers, such as endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder and liver.8 You can check out the CDC’s Adult BMI Calculator to determine your weight category—e.g., underweight, normal weight, overweight or obesity. However, you should also visit a trained health care provider for a health assessment to evaluate your individual health status and risks.

  5. Limit how much processed and red meat you eat

    Processed meat, which has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it, includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage and some deli meats. Preserving and flavoring processes include salting, curing, fermenting and smoking. Beef, pork, lamb and goat are all considered red meat.9 The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies processed meat as a carcinogen, and it classifies red meat as a probable carcinogen. A carcinogen is something that probably causes cancer.9 In fact, according to one study, eating 50 grams of processed meat every day—the equivalent of four strips of bacon or one hot dog—increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.9

We’re here to help!

Washington National provides several resources for our policyholders to help them make the right nutritional choices to prevent and fight cancer.

  • Many Washington National policies include free membership to Health Advocate. The wellness coaches at Health Advocate may be able to help you make healthy food choices.
  • Our Understanding Cancer awareness book includes statistics and food-related prevention tips to help you stay healthy. Download the PDF.
  • Washington National partners with Hormel® Foods Corporation to provide cancer patients and our policyholders who are battling cancer with access to free or discounted servings of Vital CuisineTM—drinks and foods designed to help people overcome nutritional challenges during cancer treatment and support physical recovery.

If you have questions about any of these resources, reach out to your Washington National agent. In addition, our customer care specialists, who can be reached at (800) 525-7662, are ready to help.

Policies and benefits subject to state availability.

1American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2018, 2018, p. 1.
2American Cancer Society, Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment.html, accessed March 2019.
3American Cancer Society, Benefits of Good Nutrition During Cancer Treatment, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment/benefits.html, accessed March 2019.
4Produce for Better Health Foundation, Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Database, https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/fruit-vegetable-nutrition-database, Accessed March 2019.
5Vegetables.co.nz, Vegetable Nutrition, https://www.vegetables.co.nz/health/vegetable-nutrition/, accessed March 2019.
6American Cancer Society, Benefits of Good Nutrition During Cancer Treatment, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment/benefits.html, accessed March 2019.
7WebMD, 10 Nutrient-Rich Super Foods, https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/10-super-foods#1, accessed March 2019.
8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About Adult BMI, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html#Definition, accessed March 2019.
9American Cancer Society, What’s Wrong with Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, and Bacon?, https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/hot-dogs-hamburgers-bacon.html, June 25, 2018.