September is Food Safety Month and as I reviewed the questions about food safety and colon cancer that we received over the last couple of weeks, it became very clear that people are just as concerned about the quality of food we are putting in our bodies on a regular basis as they are about washing hands well before eating.
The supermarket can be a mind-boggling place of abundant choices and foreign, hard to pronounce ingredients. Long gone are the days of going to the local produce market for vegetables and local butcher/cheese shop for meat and dairy products. It’s almost impossible to know where food items come from and how they are grown or raised unless you are lucky enough to have access to a weekly farmer’s market.
Some common food concerns:
Should I Only Eat Organically Grown Foods?
Many people are worried about a possible link between cancer risk and food additives, pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables, genetically modified foods, chemicals (such as bisphenol A, or “BPA”) present in certain plastics and hormones added to meat and milk.
Numerous research studies have tried to establish if these substances pose a threat to our health, yet as of this date, the evidence has not shown a clear or consistent link to cancer risk. That does not mean we shouldn’t play it safe!
It’s always a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables well before eating. This will help wash off some of the pesticide residue as well as any other natural bacteria added from the soil and by hands at the grocery store.
You can choose to store and reheat leftover foods in glass containers versus plastic as this will help prevent plastic particles from seeping into the food. Look for “ BPA free” water bottles to avoid this substance.
Eat organic when possible. Compare prices at the grocery store between the organic and non-organic items—you might be surprised that for many foods the prices are similar, especially if the fruit or vegetable is in season. To see a list of the “dirty dozen” (non-organic fruits and vegetables noted to have the highest amount of pesticides), check out the guide put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Use the food rules (most of the time) of avoiding products with more than five ingredients or with ingredients that a third grader could not pronounce.
Is a Plant Based Diet Really Better?
There may not be clear links between pesticides and cancer risk, but there is very strong and convincing research supporting diet, physical activity and weight in relation to health, including cancer risk and recurrence.
Evidence suggests consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whether grown conventionally or organically, may reduce cancer risk for survivors. Especially as the link between red meat consumption and colon cancer is becoming stronger.
Why are plants so great? They have more vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that stimulate the immune system and protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage) than meat. They also have fewer calories and tend to be more filling due to high fiber content, so that daily calorie consumption is lowered.
Take Away Tips:
- Fill 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and 1/3 of your plate with poultry, fish, lean meat and low fat dairy.
- Consume 18 ounces or less of red meat per week and try to completely avoid processed meat such as hotdogs, salami and bacon.
- Aim to maintain a healthy weight by controlling portion sizes, eating lower calorie foods (more plants!) and getting regular exercise.
- Continue to wash hands and produce well before eating—especially during treatment.
- Remember to enjoy food, not fear it. Make healthy choices most of the time and you will be on the right track. A treat every now and then is important too.
Are you interested in seeing more nutrition-related blogs? Leave a comment and let us know what topics you want us to cover.
Tasha Feilke, MS, RD, CSO, LDN
This post was written by Tasha Feilke, registered dietitian at Meals to Heal. Tasha obtained her Master’s of Science in Nutrition at Bastyr University in Washington and completed her dietetic internship at San Francisco State University. She has worked in various inpatient, outpatient and community settings for a decade. Tasha is passionate about motivating people to reach their fitness and nutrition goals throughout all stages and conditions of life.
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!