A strong link has been found between the development of cancer and a weakened immune system, so it’s imperative to find ways of boosting immunity to aid the fight against this life-threatening disease. One way to achieve this is by including more cancer-fighting plant foods in your diet.
Cancer and the Immune System
There are specific cancers that directly affect the immune system such as leukemia and lymphoma. However, all kinds of cancer impact immunity.
Cancer cells are created from the body’s own cells, and therefore, the immune system sometimes fails to recognize that it needs to attack them. While sometimes our immune systems know the cancer cells are foreign bodies that must be eradicated, more often than not, these cells go unnoticed. In some cases, cancer cells may even switch off the body’s immune response making sure immune cells cannot attack them.
Not only that, but cancer sufferers also often have a weak immune system. This happens when cancer itself, or the treatments given to combat the disease, affects the bone marrow. The blood cells are produced inside the bone marrow, so when it’s impacted by cancer, radiation, or chemotherapy, it produces fewer blood cells than usual. If the blood cell count is low, your body cannot fight off infections properly.
Plant Foods and Their Role in Combating Cancer
There has been some evidence to suggest vegetarians are better able to resist cancer, and it’s believed that this happens because plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains contain plenty of nutrients. Eating plenty of these types of foods reduces your risk of developing cancer.
This is because plants produce chemicals called phytochemicals that can protect the cells from being damaged. Not only that, but cancer-fighting plant foods increase the amount of fiber we consume, and this also reduces the risk of certain cancers.
Finally, plant-based diets are, in general, lower in calories, and this helps us to maintain a healthy body weight which, again, reduces the risk of developing cancer.
This is all paired with the fact that meat may increase the risk of cancer. An extra 3.5oz of red meat each day increases the risk of developing polyps in the colon by up to 2 percent, and just 1.25oz of processed meat each day increases this risk by a massive 29 percent.
Which Plant Foods Should I Include in my Diet?
A plant-based diet emphasizes the consumption of minimally processed, whole foods while limiting or avoiding animal products. The focus is on plants like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes, while refined foods such as white flour, processed oils, and added sugars are excluded.
Some of the foods you should add to your daily diet include:
- Fruits such as citrus fruits, berries, peaches, pears, bananas, and pineapple
- Vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, and asparagus
- Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and butternut squash
- Wholegrains like brown rice, farro, rolled oats, quinoa, pasta, barley, and brown rice
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, coconut oil and unsweetened coconut oil
- Legumes like peas, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and peanuts
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters like cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, tahini, and natural peanut butter
- Unsweetened plant-based milk like almond, cashew, or coconut milks
- Herbs, spices and seasonings like rosemary, basil, curry, turmeric, salt, and black pepper
- Condiments like mustard, salsa, soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, and nutritional yeast
- Plant-based proteins like tempeh and tofu
- Beverages like tea, coffee, and water
Certain foods should also be avoided. These include:
- Fast food
- Added sweets and sugars
- Refined grains
- Convenience and packaged foods
- Processed vegan foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed animal products
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