Kristina Vavura, Registered Dietitian and part of the Regina Life Clinic team, shares some helpful tips about healthy eating and its impact on our lifestyle.
Experts say up to 50% of cancers can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. Do you think that a healthy diet plays a role in this?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 30-40% of cancer development is linked to one’s lifestyle. That includes smoking, drinking alcohol, having a diet low in fruits and vegetables, obesity, and lack of physical activity. There are 10 nutrition-focused cancer prevention recommendations in a 2018 report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), non-profit organizations. These recommendations are based on randomized controlled trials and studies, making them well researched before being recommended. Taken together, they promote a lifestyle consisting of a healthy diet, physical activity and taking care of weight. This can not only help reduce the risk of cancer but can also contribute to the prevention of obesity and other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What does eating healthy actually mean and should certain food groups be excluded?
A healthy diet has the potential to reduce the risk of cancer by 10-20% [Schwingshackl and Hoffmann 2015]. The connection between diet and diseases depends on where the cancer is and by one’s gender. However, the recommended components of a healthy diet are similar [Grosso et al. 2017]. Keep in mind the following recommendations:
– Increase the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
– Limit “fast food”
– Reduce consumption of red meat – The risk of colon cancer increases by 16% for every 50g/day of processed meat intake and by 12% for every 100g/day of red meat intake. Because meat can be a valuable source of nutrients, particularly protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, the recommendation is to reduce rather than completely avoid processed red meat [Mehta et al. 2018; Bowles et al. 2012]
– Avoid sugary drinks
What do you think about low carb and keto diets?
Scientists find some benefits in low-carb and ketogenic diets when it comes to cancer. However, each case must be studied individually, since the keto diet is a prerequisite for eating a lot of fatty meat products, which increases the risk of certain cancer diseases, such as colon cancer. In addition, the keto diet is often rich in saturated fatty acids, which lead to an increase in ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) levels, increasing the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. It is important to have the expertise of a health professional to determine the risks and benefits of different diets in an individual case.
Can poor nutrition cause diseases, including cancer?
It may increase the chance of developing cancer, as well as certain autoimmune and chronic diseases. However, nutrition is only one piece of the whole puzzle. Diseases can be genetic, they can also be developed by our environment, smoking, stress, diet, and other factors. It is difficult to determine which one of these things is the cause of a given disease.
Today we face many environmental challenges related to water and soil pollution and the presence of microplastics. Do you have any advice for avoiding unsafe food products?
Unfortunately, water and soil pollution is something we cannot escape from. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables provides many health benefits, but it is important to “prepare” them safely to avoid (as much as we can) possible microbes such as Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria. The safest way to eat vegetables and fruit is to wash them under running water first, then boil them (and throwing out the water afterwards).
Here are some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2023) that you can do when prepping vegetables and fruits.
– Wash your hands, kitchen utensils and surfaces, including cutting boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
– Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking unless the package says the contents have been washed. Even then, I would suggest you wash them again.
– Wash fruit and vegetables under running water – even if you don’t plan to eat the skin. Germs on the peel or skin can get into the fruit and vegetables when you cut them.
– Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial products is not recommended. Do not use bleach solutions or other sanitizing products on fruits and vegetables.
– Cut off any damaged or bruised areas before eating.
– Dry the fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
– Store fruits and vegetables separately from raw animal food, such as meat and seafood.
– Cool the fruits and vegetables within 2 hours after you have cut, peeled, or cooked them (or 1 hour if you have been exposed to temperatures above 90°, such as a hot car or picnic). Cool them at 40°F or lower in a clean container.
What part does alcohol and smoking have when dealing with weight problems?
Scientists are still researching the relation between body weight and risk of cancer. So far, they have found several reasons why weight may affect the risk of developing cancer (ASCO 2023):
– Extra body mass increases levels of insulin and the insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Excessive amounts of this hormone can lead to the development of cancer.
– Fat tissue produces more of the hormone “estrogen”. Estrogen may contribute to the development of breast cancer.
– Fat cells affect the way the body regulates the growth of cancerous cells.
Smoking causes at least 15 different types of cancer. In fact, tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer in the world.
It is recommended to limit alcohol consumption. Every 10 grams of alcohol (ethanol) consumed per day increases the risk of cancer by 4-25% [Evrik et al. 2019].
Regarding their role in weight problems: smoking usually suppresses hunger, so when it is discontinued, many people gain body mass. The important thing here is to replace this habit with one that is not related to eating. It could be, for example, a 2–3-minute walk in the fresh air. Alcohol itself contains energy (7 kcal per gram) and it is very easy to overconsume calories. For example, one glass of wine (150ml) has about 100-150 kcal.
What are the most common dieting mistakes you see?
The most common dietary mistakes I encounter are both quantitative and qualitative. Most people don’t prioritize meals throughout the day, leading to unstructured “in-between meals” with food high in trans fats and refined carbohydrates. This unstructured schedule leads to strong feelings of hunger in the evening (when one is relaxed that the work is over) and episodes of binge eating can be seen.
The other common mistake I see is the unbalanced “plate”. In order to feel full, it’s important that our meals contain protein, carbohydrates, and fat (preferably the healthier options). However, most people fail to find the balance. There are those who dine on pasta with pesto- no protein here. Others eat a packet of meatballs- both fat and protein missing.
What advice would you give our readers to better deal with unhealthy temptations?
The types of foods people crave are different, but they often are processed junk foods high in sugar and trans fats.
One of the biggest reasons why people have trouble losing weight and maintaining a healthy one is because of unhealthy temptations and lack of willpower.
Here are 10 easy ways to prevent or stop excessive junk food consumption and sugar cravings. It’s important to note that indulging in our favorite temptations from time to time is not harmful! There needs to be a balance between all aspects of our diet.
– Drink water.
– Ensure you have protein-rich meals during the day.
– Do not buy sweet and/or salty products for your home.
– Plan your meals in advance.
– Avoid the feeling of extreme hunger.
– Work on managing stress levels.
– Get enough sleep.
– Eat regularly.
– Don’t go to the supermarket/shop hungry.
– Practice “Mindful Eating”