The DASH Diet as Cancer Prevention
Although the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was developed to help prevent and treat hypertension, the foods that make up the diet protect and sustain your health in many ways:
DASH is low in red meat. In fact, you could cut out red meat altogether, if you prefer. This is important for cancer prevention because a high intake of red meat and processed meats is linked to cancers of the colon, rectum, esophagus, stomach, prostate, lung, and kidney.
DASH is rich in fruits and vegetables. People who eat little in the way of fruits and vegetables double their risk of cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, pancreas, stomach, colon, rectum, cervix, and bladder compared with those whose intake of fruits and vegetables tracks closely with DASH.
DASH emphasizes low-fat dairy products. The impact of dairy foods on cancer risk is less clear than it is for other foods. There is evidence that eating a lot of high-fat dairy foods compared to choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy products may raise breast cancer risk. Other studies have found a lower risk for colon cancer with dairy foods.
When it comes to prostate cancer, the data gets rather murky. A high intake of whole-fat dairy products (more than 2-1/2 servings per day) is strongly correlated with prostate cancer, whereas the connection appears to be weaker with low-fat dairy. One study of men with prostate cancer found that those who ate the least amount of yogurt were more apt to have more aggressive cancers.
Until the medical community knows more, men concerned about prostate cancer risk should probably limit low-fat dairy to 2 servings or fewer on average per day.
DASH has plenty of whole grains. Whole grains are great for the digestive tract, with good evidence of protection against colorectal, pancreatic, and stomach cancer. Although the connection isn’t clear, some studies suggest that whole grains may help prevent breast cancer.
DASH includes moderate amounts of nuts, seeds, and beans. Beans may make you feel a little gassy, but they’re nutrient powerhouses and will keep your colon happy, cutting your risk for cancers of the colon, pancreas, and breast.
And although you may think of nuts and seeds as high-fat foods, they mainly supply healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3) and little in the way of the more harmful saturated fats.
Studies of nut consumption have pointed to a more than 10 percent drop in cancer incidence, including colon, breast, and prostate, in people who enjoy nuts regularly. Of course, you don’t want to go nuts with nuts. Those calories aren’t freebies, so it’s best to stick to the DASH guidelines.
DASH limits fats and oils. A diet high in saturated fats, lard, bacon grease, and butter is clearly linked to cancer risk, including cancers of the breast, colon, and pancreas.
Less is known about the saturated fats from tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil, so until scientists know more, you can’t assume that tropical oils are safer. Trans fats, including those from solid margarine and vegetable shortening, appear to increase your risk for lymphoma.
DASH keeps sweets to a minimum. Although sugar itself doesn’t appear to cause cancer, sugary foods tend to be low in healthy nutrients. By choosing a sugary snack rather than a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts, you simultaneously deprive yourself of something that’s really good for you and fill your body with empty calories.