What we eat really does affect our risk of cancer.
This contrasts those who propose we can just eat all the junky foods we want and not worry about cancer until it strikes. Then, after the body revolts with cancerous tumors, the proposed solution is a novel treatment that will magically kill all the cancer in our bodies.
Some have compared this attempt to find a cure for cancer to the moonshot of the 60s.
Yes, we can applaud this moonshot-effort to cure those who are currently fighting cancer. The task certainly has merit, and new immunotherapy strategies do look promising.
But to ignore the real solution – to prevent cancer before it happens – is like going for the moonshot before learning to walk.
This isn’t just my opinion, mind you. Over the past two decades, numerous medical scientists have become focused upon relationships between our diets and different forms of cancer. We’ve discussed some of this research on this site, but I’ve documented more of it in my book called the Ancestor’s Diet.
For now, let’s discuss a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.
Minerals and lung cancer risk studied
Researchers from medical schools, hospitals and government agencies in The Netherlands’ have teased out a link between foods and cancer in a large, and lengthy study.
The researchers utilized the well-known Rotterdam Study, which has been analyzing the diets and ongoing health of 7,983 people living in Rotterdam for more than two decades.
The Rotterdam study began in 1990 and has continued to this day. The researchers have been periodically examining each of the subjects and following them over the years to associate their diseases with their diets and lifestyles.
This study has been utilizing food frequency questionnaires given periodically, and comparing them with cases of diseases.
Utilizing the data from this study, the researchers took the diets of the subjects and ran them through a nutritional database computation called Pearson’s correlation coefficient. This susses out the nutrients from each particular food.
In this particular analysis, the 170-item food questionnaires were run through this for 5,435 people, to determine the mineral content of their diet.
In other words, certain foods are high in certain minerals. The minerals tested in this study included the big macro minerals, as well as some of the major trace (or micro) minerals. The minerals analyzed included calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. And the type of cancer the researchers focused on in this study was lung cancer.
Are any of these foods associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer?
Yes, the results of the study indicate. In a big way.
Zinc and iron reduce lung cancer risk
The research found that higher consumption of foods with zinc reduced the risk of lung cancer by 42 percent. And higher intakes of foods with iron reduced risk of lung cancer by 51 percent – but this effect was found only among men. Women saw no benefit with increased iron consumption in the diet. When men and women were averaged out, the decreased incidence overall also equaled 42 percent.
Because red and processed meat are associated with greater cancer incidence, and because some minerals – especially iron – can be found in red and processed meat, the researchers eliminated red and processed meat from the final analysis for minerals and cancer.
This means that the relationship between the zinc and iron and lung cancer included plant-based foods and dairy.
Foods high in zinc
Zinc is one of the most important trace minerals for immunity and well-being. It is used by the cells for various functions. It is a component used in catalyzing activities of some 100 enzymes. It is involved in wound healing and DNA synthesis. Zinc also utilized in insulin production. It is also an important component within the immune system.
The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 8 milligrams per day.
The research correlated dairy (.45 grams per day), whole grain foods (.42 grams per day) and nuts (.23 grams per day). But we also find specific foods are rich in zinc, including cashews (1.6 milligrams per serving, 11% DV), chickpeas or garbanzos (1.3 mg per serving), oatmeal (1.1 mg per serving), almonds (0.9 mg per serving) and kidney beans (0.9 mg per serving).
Other foods rich in zinc include tofu (2 mg per ½ cup), pinto beans (.8 mg per half cup), lentils (1.1 mg per 1.2 cup), walnuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn, wheat germ and chia seeds.
Foods high in iron
Recommended daily intake of iron changes with age and gender. Adult men need 8 milligrams a day according to the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board. Adult women, however, need 18 milligrams a day until the age of 50. After 50, they need 8 milligrams a day according to this nutritional panel.
When people hear iron, they might think red meat. But many foods have more iron than red meat. For example, spinach has 15.5 milligrams of iron per 100 milligrams (6.4 mg per cup) – more than 15 times the iron in a sirloin steak.
Ahead of even spinach are lentils (6.6 mg per cup), molasses (7.2 mg per 2 Tbsp) and soybeans (8.8 mg per cup cooked). Other foods rich in iron include chickpeas (4.7 mg per cup), lima beans (4.5 mg per cup), black-eye peas (4.3 mg per cup), Swiss chard (4.0 mg per cup) and kidney beans (3.9 mg per cup). Black and pinto beans both have 3.6 mg per cup. And one large potato has 3.2 milligrams of iron.
What about supplementing minerals?
Certainly, food-sources of minerals provide the most balanced form. This is confirmed by the above study, which eliminated supplemented minerals from its calculations.
When it comes to vitamins, food sources are best. This is because vitamins are not single compounds. They are a collection of cofactors and provitamins, which allows the body to utilize them within hormonal and energetic functions.
Yet minerals can more easily be supplemented, especially when the supplement is from natural sources. Many supplement minerals are derived from natural sources, and thus are good candidates for supplementing if our diet is low in these anticancer minerals.
This said, it is my personal opinion that the best mineral supplements will have a full spectrum of trace and macro minerals. This will avoid an unnatural overload of some minerals over others. Sources for full-spectrum mineral supplements include greenfood blends and Himalayan or other salt-mine crystal salts.
Muka T, Kraja B, Ruiter R, Lahousse L, de Keyser CE, Hofman A, Franco OH, Brusselle G, Stricker BH, de Jong JC. Dietary mineral intake and lung cancer risk: the Rotterdam Study. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Apr 12.
National Institutes of Health. Zinc Fact Sheet. Accessed April 18, 2016
National Institutes of Health. Iron Fact Sheet. Accessed April 18, 2016
Adams C. THE ANCESTORS DIET: Living and Cultured Foods to Extend Life, Prevent Disease and Lose Weight. Logical Books, 2014.