October 17, 2017 – Appetite For Life @ Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte
Nutrition information presented by
Steph Saullo, RD

The NRI and Cancer Research

The science on food and nutrients and their relationship to disease is complex, especially related to cancer. Cancer in and of itself is a complex disease that is not fully understood. As consumers, we often find ourselves inundated with the latest nutrition “story of the day” and often that story conflicts with a headline we may have seen only a week before. This simply makes trying to differentiate science and nutrition guidance more confusing. Scientists at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) are working very hard to understand the intricacies of diet, nutrients, and their relationship to cancer prevention and progression.

In the Krupenko Lab at the NRI, Sergey A. Krupenko, PhD is leading his team of researchers and focusing on vitamin folate and its role in liver function and cancer disease. His goal is to understand how we can fight cancer by controlling the diet and nutrient supplements.

In the Hursting Lab, Stephen Hursting, PhD, MDH is investigating diet-gene interactions relevant to cancer prevention, particularly the molecular and hormonal mechanisms underlying energy balance-cancer associations. His research focuses on what you eat (and what you don’t eat) and how that impacts your risk of developing cancer.

Dr. Stewart leads all cancer and immunology-focused studies. Her research aims to better characterize causes and progressive microenvironments of breast and other types of cancers, identify diagnostically and therapeutically relevant biomarkers and determine the role of altered nutritional states on cancer health disparity treatment outcomes.

Current research suggests following an overall healthful diet, rich in plants, that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans and staying physically active may reduce the risk of cancer.

Canned Salmon Fish Cakes with Mixed Greens

Overall, average intakes of seafood are low across the American population. For the general population, eating approximately 8 ounces of a variety of seafood per week is recommended and provides an average of 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). DHA and EPA are important for supporting the health of your heart, brain, and eyes. Flax seeds and walnuts are plant-based sources of omega-3 fat (ALA). Unfortunately, to get the omega-3 benefits we so often hear about, ALA must be converted to DHA and EPA, a process that inefficient, therefore it is still important to consider fish sources of omega-3. In particular, it is important to have an appropriate ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (ideally, 1:1). The standard American diet contains up to 20 times (or more) omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. This improper ratio has been associated with increased inflammation.

Seafood choices higher in DHA and EPA but lower in methyl mercury are encouraged and salmon is among these choices. Others include: anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in methyl mercury). Canned fish options are comparable in nutrition to the fresh variety. They are less expensive than fresh or frozen and will last for some time in the pantry.

Green Pea and Mint Hummus with Whole Wheat Pita Chips

Legumes are plants whose fruit is enclosed by a pod. We commonly call legumes “beans.” Legumes include chickpeas/garbanzo beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, as well as lentils, peas, soybeans, and peanuts. Beans are an excellent source of fiber and folate. A one cup serving provides more than half of a person’s daily requirement for each. High fiber diets and a sufficient intake of folate have been associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer. Legumes are also made up of other components that have potential anti-cancer effects including selenium, zinc, phytates, saponins, and isoflavones. What about gas? Some carbohydrates in beans contribute to gas and bloating for some people. If you do not eat beans often, start with small amounts and drink water. As you eat beans more often, your digestive system will adapt to the fiber and carbohydrates thereby decreasing these unfavorable effects over time.

Lentil Soup with Spinach and Tzatziki

Lentils and other legumes are nutrient dense. They provide a wide variety of nutrients including iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, thiamine, and niacin, in addition to folate and fiber as previously mentioned. How do legumes stack up as far as protein compared to other plant sources? Legumes provide a similar amount of protein per serving compared to nuts and seeds. Compared to grains, legumes tend to have almost double the amount of protein. If you do not eat or limit animal products, it is important to include an adequate amount of plant-based protein and to vary these sources of protein among legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains.

Dried lentils do not take as long to prepare as other dried beans like pinto or kidney beans (30 minutes versus 2½ hours, respectively). It isn’t common to find canned lentils, but you can find many varieties of canned beans. When shopping for canned beans, look for “no salt added” varieties. If you cannot find this option, drain and rinse the beans well. Draining and rinsing can reduce the sodium content by approximately 40 percent.

Spinach is mostly water and therefore when cooked its nutrient content becomes more concentrated. Spinach, along with other leafy greens pack in a hefty amount of nutrients like fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and other phytochemicals that have been shown to play a role in reducing the risk of various diseases like heart disease and age-related macular degeneration. The more cruciferous-type leafy greens like kale, cabbage, and collards have been shown to play a role in cancer prevention. It is recommended to try and get in at least 1½ cups of dark green vegetables each week. For those taking blood thinners, it is recommended to consult with your physician or a registered dietitian, as a large amount of leafy greens may interfere with medications like warfarin due to their high content of vitamin K.

Frozen and canned vegetables are just as nutritious, if not more so than their fresh counterparts. In many cases, frozen and canned forms are more economical not only from a price standpoint, but also when food waste and time required to prepare are factored into the equation. For canned, look for “no salt added” and for frozen look for plain, unseasoned or varieties without sauce.

Frozen Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

A diet that includes many fruits and vegetables is important for overall health and intake has been linked to protecting against certain types of cancer. While research looks at various fruits, vegetables, and components of these fruits and vegetables (like individual phytochemicals), there is not one fruit or vegetable that can provide an adequate amount of all the nutrients required for health so it is important to include a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Most of the American population have intakes below recommended levels for fruits and vegetables (75 percent and 87 percent, respectively) so we could all benefit from increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Frozen and canned fruit are great options when fresh fruit is not available. Look for canned fruit in 100% juice or water versus heavy or light syrup. The majority of frozen fruit is simply frozen fruit. Regardless of form, fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice, cooked or raw fruits and vegetables can all contribute essential nutrients needed to make up a well-balanced, healthy diet.

Posted: October 17, 2017