By: Mary Jane Dittmar
Health is as vital to firefighters/emergency responders’ well-being as safety. Just as you must do your part to ensure your safety on the fireground and not abandon all responsibility for your safety to the safety officer or incident commander, so, too, you must take the initiative in safeguarding your health. You should be “proactive” about protecting your total health-body, mind, and spirit.
Given the vast changes that have overtaken the health-care environment and the rapid pace at which research has been evolving, health-care consumers today must become involved. They must become knowledgeable in health options and informed partners with their doctors and other health-care providers.
This column will present for your information brief synopses of research studies and other health-related reports you can use as stepping stones to build your body of knowledge in health-enhancing strategies. Keep in mind that some research represents first findings and involves small test groups. The results of these tests serve as the basis for subsequent studies.
In some cases, you may note that research studies may seem to contradict each other. This may occur for several reasons. Results may be observed over a longer period of time, the number of study participants may be increased, or the previous study may have been flawed or could not be replicated. It could also be that one study’s findings may threaten the interests of industries or organizations. Therefore, be discerning when evaluating the data. When such contradictions occur, check additional resources and consult with your doctor and other qualified health-care professionals. Unfortunately, not every health-care provider is sufficiently trained in nutrition. Also, whenever possible, try to determine who is funding the study, especially when the results contradict findings that have been widely accepted in the health community. The sponsors of the study might have a hidden agenda that does not have the public’s well-being as their primary objective.
Surprisingly, the findings of a good number of studies can help us improve our health and overall well-being by making what have come to be known as “lifestyle” changes in everyday activities like eating, exercising, coping with life’s stresses, and following guidelines established to make us more healthy and keep us safe.
Information presented in this column is not to be construed as medical advice. Always consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program or taking supplements or any other substances, especially if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition or are taking medications.
Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer
Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective was published in late September 1997. In 1994, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), in collaboration with the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), began the Diet & Cancer Project, which brought together a panel of 15 of the world’s leading researchers in diet and cancer to produce a comprehensive new report on diet and cancer prevention. This project was an outgrowth of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ landmark 1982 report Diet, Nutrition and Cancer.
The 660-page AICR/WCRF report was the result of a review of more than 4,500 research studies and examines the relationship between dietary factors and 18 specific cancers. It gives new dietary guidelines for cancer prevention and offers public policy recommendations to help make cancer prevention an achievable goal.
The Diet & Cancer Project revealed that one out of every four deaths in this country is now attributable to cancer and that cancer mortality has risen steadily over the past half century. Cancer mortality and incidence rates have begun to level or slightly decline only within the past few years.
Cancer is a growing health problem in other industrialized countries as well. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 million cases of cancer occurred around the world last year and expects that the number will grow to 14.7 million cases within the next 20 years.
Cancer … A Preventable Disease
The basic message of Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective is that cancer is a preventable disease. The report states that “although we still do not know how to prevent all cancers, a major finding of this report is that we now know more than enough to dramatically reduce the too high cancer incidence rates we currently have, and to curb growing cancer rates around the world …. this report provides consumers and policy makers with direction on what can be done now to reduce cancer risk.”
Dietary Guidelines and Recommendations
The following “Advice to Individuals” is presented in the report:
1. Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses (legumes), and minimally processed starchy staple foods.
2. Avoid being underweight or overweight, and limit weight gain during adulthood to less than 5kg (11 pounds).
3. If occupational activity is low or moderate, take an hour’s brisk walk or similar exercise daily, and also exercise vigorously for a total of at least one hour in a week.
4. Eat 400-800 grams (15-30 ounces) or five or more portions (servings) a day of a variety of vegetables and fruits, all year round.
5. Eat 600-800 grams (20-30 ounces) or more than seven portions (servings) a day of a variety of cereals (grains), pulses (legumes), roots, tubers, and plantains. Prefer minimally processed foods. Limit consumption of refined sugar.
6. Alcohol consumption is not recommended. If consumed, limit alcoholic drinks to less than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
7. If eaten at all, limit intake of red meat to less than 80 grams (3 ounces) daily. It is preferable to choose fish, poultry, and meat from non-domesticated animals in place of red meat.
8. Limit consumption of fatty foods, particularly those of animal origin. Choose modest amounts of appropriate vegetable oils.
9. Limit consumption of salted foods and use of cooking and table salt. Use herbs and spices to season foods.
10. Do not eat food that, as a result of prolonged storage at ambient temperatures, is liable to contamination with mycotoxins [Author’s note: toxic substances produced by a fungus and especially a mold].
11. Use refrigeration and other appropriate methods to preserve perishable foods as purchased and at home.
12. When levels of additives, contaminants, and other residues are properly regulated, their presence in food and drink is not known to be harmful. However, unregulated or improper use can be a health hazard, and this applies particularly in economically developing countries.
13. Do not eat charred food. For meat and fish eaters, avoid burning of meat juices. Consume the following only occasionally: meat and fish grilled (broiled) in direct flame; cured and smoked meats.
14. For those who follow the recommendations presented here, dietary supplements are probably unnecessary, and possibly unhelpful, for reducing cancer risk.
15. Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
The Reality and Potential of Prevention
Our dietary choices play a central role in helping protect us against cancer.
The National Academy of Sciences landmark 1982 report on diet and cancer was the first to make clear the link between diet and cancer. Now, the new Diet & Cancer Project report clearly establishes that the foods we choose play an overwhelming role in fighting cancer, the report explains. It cites the following:
* Eating right, plus staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight, can cut cancer risk by 30% to 40%.
* Recommended dietary choices coupled with not smoking have the potential to reduce cancer risk by 60% to 70%.
* As many as 375,000 cases of cancer, at current cancer rates, could be prevented each year in this nation through healthy dietary choices.
* A simple change, such as eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, could by itself reduce cancer rates more than 20%.
The AICR Diet & Health Guidelines for Cancer Prevention
Following is a condensed version of the guidelines:
1. Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
3. Maintain a healthy weight, and be physically active
4. Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
5. Select foods low in fat and salt.
6. Prepare and store foods safely.
7. Do not smoke or use tobacco in any form.
Study information is reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Additional information about the American Institute for Cancer Research and the entire study is available at the AICR Web site (www.aicr.org). Its Nutrition Hotline number is 1-800-843-8114.