A study just published in the journal Cancer Research found that overweight or obese women who shed as little as 10 percent of their body weight lowered their cancer risk as well.
They did it by reducing their C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation (a process that can spur cancer, regardless of where it exists in your body) by almost 42 percent. They also lowered their levels of interleukin-6, another inflammation biomarker, by about 24 percent. Shedding excess pounds, say the experts, can cut your risk for at least seven types of cancer: kidney, pancreas, colon, esophagus, rectum, uterine, and, in postmenopausal women, breast cancer.
How They Lost the Pounds—and Maybe Dodged Cancer
The women started with the same goal: they wanted to lose 10 percent of their body weight within a year. “So this program was highly achievable and reproducible,” says Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, director of the Prevention Center of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who led the study. “We’re not talking about drastic weight loss.”
Participants ate between 1,200 and 2,000 calories a day, keeping their fat intake to less than 30 percent. The most successful dieters also exercised 225 minutes per week—important to note because a sedentary lifestyle makes us more susceptible to cancer. And, fans of natural healing will be happy to learn, losing weight lowered the women’s inflammation levels even more than if they had taken anti-inflammatory medications.
Follow These Guidelines
An eating plan similar to the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet will maximize your chance of lowering your inflammation levels—and, consequently, your risk of getting cancer and other inflammation-related illnesses, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It’s important to avoid foods considered “energy-dense”—those that are high in added sugar, low in fiber and high-fat. Think of energy-dense as another way of saying “calorie-dense.” For instance, a 3.5-ounce apple, high in fiber and water content, is only 52 calories. But a milk chocolate bar that weighs the same 3.5 ounces is a whopping 520 calories—a much more calorie-dense choice.
You also want to avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks and “juice-flavored” drinks. Even fruit juice, while delivering plenty of nutrition, also contains a lot of sugar, so it’s best to limit your juice to one glass a day. Reach for water, coffee and unsweetened tea whenever you can.
Your “Super 7” Foods
These are seven of the most effective inflammation-fighting foods out there. If you can build your diet around these healthy staples, and keep your sugars and processed foods to a minimum, you’ll have a head start in averting cancer.
- Load up on fruits and vegetables—the more colorful, the better. Make dark green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, along with fruits and veggies full of carotenoids—substances that give orange and yellow plant foods their bright colors—the foundation of your anti-cancer diet. Apples, citrus fruits, bell peppers, carrots and berries all qualify.
- Go fishing. Tuna, wild salmon and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation. Our bodies don’t produce omega-3s, which are essential to good health, so we must get them from foods, primarily fish. They’re also abundant in flaxseed oil, soybeans and kidney beans.
- Olive oil, a “good fat.” One of the often-touted monounsaturated “healthy” fats—along with canola oil and grapeseed oil, among others—olive oil also contains an ingredient that boosts its inflammation-fighting ability: oleocanthal, a compound that counters inflammation similarly to NSAIDS such as ibuprofen.
- Add spice to your life! Some spices, including turmeric (a yellow herb used in making curries) and ginger, are strong inflammation fighters. Try to buy them fresh and grate or grind them yourself; if fresh turmeric is difficult to find, the dried powder form also works well.
- Take a coffee break. Back in 2006, researchers from the Iowa Women’s Health Study linked coffee drinking to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses in postmenopausal women because of its inflammation-fighting properties. If you’re not already a coffee drinker, talk to your doctor first to be sure it won’t interfere with your sleep or make you jittery—and pregnant women are advised to avoid coffee altogether.
- Take your grains whole. Ditch the white bread, refined pasta and bagels. Whole grains digest more slowly, avoiding surges in blood sugar that can cause inflammation. Stop at your local natural foods store for whole-grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice.
- Have a nutty day. When you need a snack, reach for a handful of walnuts, almonds or pistachios. A 2008 review published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the various compounds in nuts that have anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers found that combinations of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium and polyunsaturated fatty acids, among other substances, all helped reduce inflammation in varying degrees.