There is steadily-accumulating evidence that being overweight contributes to cancer occurrence, recurrence and mortality. Recent data suggest that obesity may cause as many as 20% of cancers. (footnote 1) Medscape reported a recent Danish study involving 19,000 women which concluded that having a Body Mass Index over 25, the limit for healthy weight, was associated with more advanced stage at cancer diagnosis and up to a 42% greater incidence of distant recurrence (metastasis).
Weight management for people with a recent or past diagnosis of cancer should be undertaken in full view of potential effects on cancer-promoting mechanisms in the body. While the desire to manage weight is admirable, many of the weight management programs available are, to put it bluntly, the last thing a person who has had cancer needs. Programs offering prepackaged food containing refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated oils or preservatives contribute to inflammation, which in turn may promote the development of cancer and other chronic diseases. Quality of food is key for healthy weight management in the setting of a cancer history. The closer food is to its original state, the more nutrient value it retains. When your health goals include preventing a recurrence of cancer, every bite counts. Sugars, unhealthy fats and preservatives take up space better filled with nature’s bounty of cancer-fighting (and delicious!) nutrients. Indeed, this is important for all of us as in the U.S., one-third of women and one-half of men can expect a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.(footnote 2)
When devising a nutritional plan for someone who’s had cancer, I like to recommend what CAN be eaten as well as anything that can’t. There is a rainbow of foods available to support healthy weight, fight disease and infuse health! Even shopping for these foods is more fun than tossing plastic-wrapped packages into our shopping baskets. When we orient our nutrition to including the nutritional “good guys”, weight management happens naturally and brings wellness in its wake.
I’ll be writing more specifically on foods that fight cancer while supporting weight management in future articles. In the meantime, here’s an easy-to-read book that does a wonderful job of presenting foods that are your best friends if you’ve had cancer; Anticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition
1 Wolin, Kathleen et al, Obesity and Cancer, The Oncologist, Vol. 15, No. 6, 556-565, June 2010
2 American Cancer Society data; see the slide show here