Our Nutritionist Elizabeth Somer discussing cancer risks

Watermelon fights CancerThe statistics on cancer aren’t pretty. One in two men and one in every three women will develop cancer in their lifetimes. While some cases are unavoidable, one in three could be prevented with changes in lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating right, and exercising daily (another one-third would be prevented if people avoided tobacco). In short, you can stack the deck in favor of living cancer free. The sooner you start, the better.

Maintaining a lean, fit body is critical for lowering disease risk in general and cancer risk specifically. Being overweight raises the risk for numerous types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, prostate, pancreas, kidney, and more.

The diet rules for lowering cancer risk also help with weight management. In fact, these habits lower the risk for many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. They include:

  1. eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, and legumes;
  2. carefully watch portions, especially of processed, fast, and convenience foods.
  3. avoid sugary and high-calorie foods and beverages;
  4. limit red meat and avoid processed meats, like bacon, ham, sausage, deli meats, and hot dogs;
  5. limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women a day; and
  6. limit salt and processed foods containing salt.

The mainstay of this diet is colorful fruits and vegetables. These are some of the most powerful anti-cancer foods. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are high in fiber and water, so they fill you up on few calories. Best of all, colorful fruits and vegetables contain a host of phytonutrients, naturally occurring plant chemicals that provide color and flavor to plants (in general, the more color, the more phytonutrients). The phytonutrients in colorful produce may help stimulate the immune system, block substances from converting to carcinogens, reduce inflammation, prevent DNA damage and aid in DNA repair, and lower oxidation that can trigger cancer cell growth. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 2 ½ cups of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. That’s a minimum. More is better.

Let’s look at watermelon. This chin-dribbling fruit is 92% water and a source of fiber, but contains less than 50 calories in every cup, so is a great addition to a weight management plan. It’s also low in sodium. The vitamin C in watermelon may help block cancer-causing substances, called nitrosamines, in the stomach. Phytonutrients in watermelon, such as the carotenoids beta carotene and lycopene, may help inhibit cancer cell growth, boost immune function, and protect against oxidation and inflammation. It’s easy to add this delicious fruit to the daily diet. For example:

  • For breakfast: Add a bowl of watermelon chunks to the meal or smoothie.
  • For lunch: Add a slice to sandwiches or diced watermelon in a salad.
  • For dinner: Top a salmon fillet or chicken breast with watermelon-avocado salsa.
  • For snacks: Bring a thermos of watermelon juice or a bag of sliced watermelon.
  • For desserts: Dunk watermelon chunks in fat-free chocolate syrup or puree watermelon in a blender, add lime juice and freeze in ice cube trays for an alternative to ice cream.

Diet alone won’t cut it. You also must exercise. Along with burning calories, daily exercise improves hormone levels and boosts immunity. The general consensus is: a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise ( a slight sweat from brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. That is activity over and above moving throughout the day, such as walking up stairs and doing housework.

Take care of that one and only body you have and it will repay you a thousand-fold with greater health and vitality

1. Medline: Diet and Cancer. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002096.htm
2. American Cancer Society: Diet and physical activity: What’s the cancer connection? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/diet-and-physical-activity
3. American Institute for Cancer Research: Phytonutrients: The cancer fighters in foods we eat. http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/diet/elements_phytochemicals.html
4. Breast Cancer Risk in American Women. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast/risk-fact-sheet
5. American Cancer Society: Lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer
6. Dahm CC, Keogh RH, Spencer EA, Greenwood DC, Key TJ, Fentiman IS, et al. Dietary fiber and colorectal cancer risk: a nested case-control study using food diaries. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2010;102:614-626.
7. Gaziano JM, Glynn RJ, Christen WG, Kurth T, Belanger C, MacFadyen J, et al. Vitamins E and C in the prevention of prostate and total cancer in men: the Physicians' Health Study II randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association 2009;301:52-62.
8. Kushi LH, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30-67.
9. Pierce JP, Natarajan L, Caan BJ, Parker BA, Greenberg, Flatt SW, et al. Influence of a diet very high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber and low in fat on prognosis following treatment for breast cancer: the Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association 2007;293;289-298.
10. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR, 2007. United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.

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Representing 1,500 watermelon growers, shippers and importers nationwide, our goal is to promote the nutritional, culinary and convenience benefits of watermelon.


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