New recommendations unveiled today may have you wondering if you should skip the cookouts and grilled hamburgers this summer in the name of preventing cancer—but don't worry, you don't have to forgo this seasonal fave entirely.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has released six aggressive dietary guidelines (to be published in the June 30 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition) that the group feels are necessary for cancer prevention. PCRM based a majority of these guidelines on a 2007 report from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research.
I do think it is important to note that these guidelines (listed below with my take) are not being given on behalf any cancer association.
1. Limit or Avoid Dairy Products to Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer
Let’s be clear on one thing here: This recommendation is for the sole purpose of decreasing the risk of prostate cancer. Nowhere do the authors of the paper mention the numerous benefits of consuming dairy, which has been linked to improved bone health, reduced risk of cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes, and the lowering of blood pressure. According to the USDA’s dietary guidelines, three servings of dairy daily is still advised.
2. Limit or Avoid Alcohol to Reduce Risk of Cancers of the Mouth, Pharynx, Larynx, Esophagus, Colon, Rectum, and Breast
I think here it is important to know the difference between moderate drinking and excessive drinking. Moderate drinking for woman is considered to be one 12-ounce glass of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of spirits. Research will support that moderate drinking may lower risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women, and there are also studies to support that gallstones and type 2 diabetes are less likely to occur in moderate drinkers than in non-drinkers.
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3. Avoid Red and Processed Meats to Reduce Risk of Cancers of the Colon and Rectum
I can’t argue that processed meats (i.e. bacon, sausage, bolgna, salami) don’t offer any nutritional benefit and are probably better off not eaten; however, I'm not sure I would say the same for red meat. Red meat is high in heme iron (which is easily absorbed by the body), something many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years are lacking. Red meat also provides vitamin B12, which is important to keep nerves and red blood cells healthy, and zinc to help keep the immune system strong. Interesting enough, the American Cancer Society currently recommends on their website not avoiding processed meat or red meat, but choosing lean cuts and eating smaller portions. I concur, mainly to lower calorie and total fat intake.
4. Avoid Grilled, Fried, and Broiled Meats to Reduce Risk of Cancers of the Colon, Rectum, Breast, Prostate, Kidney, and Pancreas
This guideline is based on the findings that there are four types of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) associated with cancer of the colon and rectum. HCAs are formed from higher cooking times and temperatures—probably not something you want to hear in the summer when the grill has become one of your best friends. However, the good news is there are ways to reduce HCAs from occurring: Marinate foods prior to cooking, eat meat medium-rare instead of well-done, cut meat into small pieces prior to grilling to speed up cook time, and pre-cook meat in the microwave for two to five minutes. [Tweet this advice!]
5. Consume Soy Products to Reduce Risk of Breast Cancer and to Reduce Risk of Recurrence and Mortality for Women Previously Treated for Breast Cancer
I think most women are going to find this guideline surprising, but I for one am glad to see it. There are numerous studies to date that will support that soy products are associated with reduced cancer risk. The important thing here to remember is that we are talking about consuming whole soy foods (i.e. edamame, tempeh, tofu) as opposed to taking soy supplements. Research will also support that soy foods may help decrease cholesterol levels.
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6. Emphasize Fruits and Vegetables to Reduce Risk of Several Common Forms of Cancer
“There’s considerable benefit—and no harm—in loading up with plant-based foods,” study author Susan Levin, R.D., director of nutrition education for PCRM, said in a press release. “Large bodies of research show fruits, vegetables, and legumes offer a variety of protective properties, so why not move these foods to the center of our plates?” Who could possibly argue with this one? There is an endless amount of research on the overall health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and veggies.
Overall it doesn't hurt to keep these guidelines in mind, but I suggest not obsessing over them.