In the spring of 2019, Alberta Health Services (AHS) launched a new website called HealthierTogether.ca, which details how healthy habits can help protect against a number of common medical problems, including some forms of cancer. While many cancers are not related to controllable factors, eating right can offer some defense against these common types of cancer.
The issue: Not eating enough fruit and vegetables is linked to 40 per cent of new cases of esophageal cancer.
The recommendation: To protect yourself from esophageal cancer, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommend eating at least five, 400g servings of fruit and non-starchy vegetables every day. AHS dietitian Caitlin Wallis describes a starchy vegetable as something like potatoes, squash and parsnips. To get those servings of non-starchy veg, reach for items like zucchini, cucumber, carrots or spinach.
Wallis says that it’s also important to eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables in order to incorporate a variety of vitamins and nutrients into your regular diet. One way to “eat the rainbow” in a single dish is to make a fruit and veggie-packed salad: combine a few handfuls of spinach with fresh, sliced strawberries or apples, avocado, cucumbers and grated carrots and toss with your favourite dressing.
The issue: Not getting enough vitamin D is linked to nine per cent of new colorectal cancer cases.
The recommendation: Vitamin D is commonly acquired though sun exposure, but unfortunately, sunlight doesn’t give us all the vitamin D we need. Most foods offer a limited amount of vitamin D at best, though it is found in fish like arctic char, pickled herring, rainbow trout and salmon, as well as milk and eggs that have been fortified with the vitamin. Wallis recommends that both children and adults take a vitamin D supplement to ensure they’re getting enough. Talk to your health-care provider to discuss the appropriate amount.
The problem: Too much salt in the diet is linked to about 12 per cent of new stomach cancer cases.
The recommendation: Health Canada recommends anyone over the age of 14 years consume less than 2,300 mg of salt per day — but it can be hard to measure how much salt we’re eating, since so much is hidden in restaurant meals and processed foods. Wallis recommends choosing foods that are fresh, unprocessed and homemade as often as possible and getting in the habit of seasoning recipes with fresh herbs and lemon rather than salt.
The problem: Drinking alcohol is linked to 17 per cent of new cases of oral cancer.
The recommendation: From a cancer prevention perspective, it’s best to cut out alcohol consumption completely, but WCRF and AICR recommend that people who do enjoy the odd alcoholic drink limit themselves to no more than one (for women) or two (for men) servings a day. Those avoiding alcohol should be careful not to replace alcoholic beverages with sugary juice or soda — Canada’s Food Guide recommends making water your drink of choice, adding muddled berries, freshly torn herbs or a drop of vanilla extract for flavour if desired.