I have cancer. You do, too. But don’t panic. I’m not talking about the disease. Rather, I’m talking about the random cancer cells that regularly pop up in your body just about everywhere—a byproduct of eating, breathing and, well, just living. If we’re healthy, they get nipped in the bud by our immune system. This function, called apoptosis (also known as programmed cell death), causes unwanted cells to self-destruct and is our body’s innate cancer-prevention process. The trouble starts when too many cancer cells get together and figure out how to outfox our body’s natural defenses.
“Cancer is like a weed,” says Donald Abrams, M.D., chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “You need to tend your garden carefully to make the soil as inhospitable as possible so it can’t take root in the first place.”
Step one in developing a strong anti-cancer diet is eliminating its “fertilizers,” Abrams says. “Dairy, sugar, refined flours and red meat are the top foods for feeding the weed,” he explains. These foods also add inches to our waistlines, fattening us up and raising our national risk of developing cancer.
Losing excess weight might be the best thing you can do to lower your risk for cancer, says Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. “People who are overweight have higher levels of circulating estrogen and insulin— both of which are associated with tumor growth,” she says.
Moreover, Abrams says, extra fat promotes systemic inflammation in the body. “Excess fat secretes cytokines, which prompt an inflammatory response,” he says. “More and more, we are coming to believe that chronic inflammation leads to cancer because it ties up the immune system, undermining apoptosis.” Trimming calories (and losing inches) is a good idea, but it helps to eliminate the following fertilizers from your diet: