Eating to prevent cancer

Aveen Bannon, Dietitian, BSc Human Nutrition & Dietetics, has a special interest in eating well to prevent cancer, and to help recover from the disease after treatment

Eat well to stay healthy

Regular meals with a wide variety of foods and reasonable portions are the way to protect yourself from obesity and the risks it poses to your health.

rice“Excess body weight contributes to death in about one in five people,” says Aveen Bannon, Dietitian (BSc Human Nutrition & Dietetics), who has a special interest in cancer.

“In Ireland, we have relatively high rates of breast cancer and colon cancer, which are both linked with obesity. Breast cancer is linked with obesity in post-menopausal women. Other cancers are also linked with obesity like: oesophageal cancer; gall bladder; liver; cervix; and ovarian cancer. Any cancer around the abdomen area is associated with weight as well,” says Aveen.


Carbohydrates

Aveen emphasises that 50% of our energy should come from good quality carbohydrates like:

  • Potatoes
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Wholegrain brown rice
  • Brown bread
  • Porridge oats
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa.

“Make sure every time you eat that there is fibre and protein in the food you are eating. Crisps for example, have neither,” says Aveen.


Oils and fats

Saturated fat increases the risk of bowel cancer and breast cancer. By eating better quality oils you will reduce your saturated fat intake,” said Aveen.

Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat when you use it without cooking. However, when you heat it to high temperatures it breaks down into unhealthier parts. This is why Aveen recommends that you cook with rapeseed oil that stays intact even when it is heated.

It is a good idea to eat oily fish twice a week so you get all the Omega 3 fat you need. This is an anti-inflammatory fat. Oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Other good sources of monounsaturated fat are avocados and nuts.

Try to reduce how much you eat of saturated fats including:

  • Animal fats
  • Butter
  • Cheese.

“There is no such thing as a good or bad food, only a good or bad diet. One specific food will not give you cancer, it is eating behaviour you need to look at – the overall balance of your diet,” said Aveen.


Fruit and vegetables

“Make sure you have colour in every meal. This means you will get your five a day of your fruit and vegetables. You should have a variety of colour to get the benefits of all the different minerals,” said Aveen.

When you are trying to have a healthy diet the most important things to start with are:

  • Have colour at every meal
  • Drink more water
  • Think about fat
  • Eat plenty of fibre
  • Eat enough protein.

Eat regularly

  • Eat breakfast within one hour of getting up.
  • Leave no more that a 3-4-hour gap between eating.
  • Each snack or meal should contain protein and fibre.

breakfast“It is important to eat every 3-4 hours because our brain can only use glucose as fuel and our body will spend a maximum of four hours breaking down carbohydrate into glucose.

“Our brains need to be drip fed every 3-4 hours to maintain concentration and energy levels and to get the body to work more efficiently. You can do this by having a bag of nuts, for example, in the top drawer in your desk. Eat a couple of nuts, or have a piece of fruit, or grab a yogurt. If you are really stuck get a low-fat milky coffee. If you don’t have time at work, have it on the way home.

“If you leave a long gap and then pile on the food, your body will find it difficult to break down the food,” says Aveen.


Vitamin D

“Having enough Vitamin D has been linked to reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. If someone has a family history of cancer, I would recommend that they take a vitamin D supplement. The recommended amount is 5-10 micrograms a day,” says Aveen.


Portion size

When you are having dinner, try to divide your plate in three. One third, carbohydrate, one third vegetables and one third protein.

“When people don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, they end up eating too much rice or pasta,” says Aveen.

It is also important to make sure children get smaller portions than adults.


During cancer treatment

“For weeks when you feel rubbish, listen to your body. It’s not the week to be embarking on your high fibre food. You can’t do it. If a fluid is cold and has a bit of sugar we absorb it quicker. So sometimes it is helpful to have frozen ice cubes made from 7up or orange, or whatever you like. You can suck on those ice-cubes to keep your blood sugars up. You may also feel like things like Rice Krispies and white bread that week. Listen to your body at that time and when you feel well you can go back to a normal, healthy diet.


After cancer treatment

“When you are better, you can go back to a normal healthy diet to build yourself back up. However, depending on the cancer you have had, you may have to modify your levels of fibre, or other foods,” says Aveen.