Scaring off cancer with nutrition and exercise
By Brian Sodoma
Words like polyphenols, flavonoids and isoflavones don’t roll off the tongue too easily; but they quickly become part of your vocabulary when dealing with Christi Kirk.
The registered dietitian at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert helps cancer patients, survivors and those predisposed to the disease understand how food choices that include these powerful phytochemicals are perhaps the best medicine in the fight against cancer.
Kirk says a plant-based diet rich with fruits, vegetables and plant proteins like beans, quinoa, lentils and tempeh, is a great anti-cancer foundation. But Kirk also understands that building this type of diet takes baby steps for some. So the “five-a-day” approach to fruits and vegetables is where she starts.
“The problem isn’t so much that patients don’t know what to eat; it’s figuring out how they can implement this type of nutritional program into their lives,” she says.
For many, time crunches can be a barrier to menu planning. So Kirk is always on the lookout for quick and easy tasty meals. The nutrition pro also says with better diet choices, people are more likely to make exercise a priority.
Kirk’s colleague, Josh Wludyga, an exercise physiologist at Banner MD Anderson, helps patients learn the role of exercise in cancer prevention. About 20 percent of cancer cases are obesity-related, he said.
Hormones like estrogen and insulin become elevated in overweight and obese people, which can increase cancer risk, Wludyga added. A little exercise can go a long way in reversing these problems.
“We’re not trying for a beach body. We want to help people get to a weight where the body can comfortably regulate itself,” he says. “And that’s good for cancer prevention.”
Tips to lose weight, fight cancer
- Mix it up: Eat a wide variety of colors of fruits and vegetables to get a broad range of cancer-fighting phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids, and isoflavones, to name a few.
- The discomfort zone: Try new recipes to get those red, orange, yellow and green plant colors into your diet. A little variety can make a diet shift a lot easier, says Kirk.
- Avoid sitting disease: Thanks to technology and other modern conveniences, too much work is done sitting down. Find reasons to get up; walk instead of ride every chance you get, adds Wludyga.
- Embrace resistance: Cardiovascular exercises like jogging or swimming burn calories while you do them. But to continue elevating your calorie-burn throughout the day, work in some resistance training as well.