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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Your Best Medicine’s on Your Fork

Dec 19, 2010 09:43PM ● By Susan Rzucidlo, N.D.

Your Best Medicine’s on Your Fork

Even with all the medical and technological innovations at our disposal, the most effective tools for fighting disease may be growing in our own gardens or at the farmer’s market.

 It has been estimated that one-third of all cancer related deaths in the United States can be avoided through dietary modification. A diet rich in plant foods enhances health through providing essential vitamins and minerals, as well as thousands of phytochemicals. There is also compelling evidence that dietary patterns and foods are closely associated with the risk for several types of cancer. Diets high in fat have been linked to increased risk of breast, colon, prostate, and possibly pancreatic, ovarian and endometrial cancers. A consistently higher intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins, such as soy - not typical of the average American diet - is associated with a markedly reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and some chronic diseases of aging.

 Fruits, legumes and grains also contain phytochemicals, including carotenoids, polyphenols and indols. Phytochemicals are produced by plants to protect themselves, but they can also offer protection to humans when ingested. Carotenoids, a phytochemical, found in dark yellow/orange vegetables and fruits such as carrots and sweet potatoes and in deep green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and collard greens, are directly related to a decreased risk of cancer. However, eating carrots alone does not hold the same protective effect as a diversified intake: the synergistic relationship resulting from the complex mixture of phytochemicals present in a variety of whole foods is what provides the most anticancer activity.

 Phytochemicals offer protection via their various functions, such as providing antioxidant support, enhancing immune function, altering estrogen metabolism, aiding in cancer cell death (apoptosis), repair of DNA damage, and enhancing our detox pathways. Because of these promising functions, many phytochemicals have been made into dietary supplements, which are not as beneficial as getting phytochemicals via our diet. You cannot fix the effects of a consistently poor diet and lifestyle through supplementation. One of the keys to prevention of disease is still a plate full of colorful fruits and vegetables. The recommended daily intake of vegetables and fruit is 5-8 servings per day, while the typical diet only includes two servings. For the most protective effect, we should not only aim for six servings, but a spectrum of colors on our plate, with at least five different colored fruits and vegetables.

 Optimizing nutrition during and following cancer therapy is a vital factor in overcoming the disease, but is often neglected. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is not only important for prevention, but is also vital to cancer patients during conventional treatment. People with cancer need special nutritional planning and management, and cancer patients are at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies, either the result of the cancer itself, or the side effects of common cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

 Cancer patients who are well nourished typically have a better prognosis. Proper nutrition can speed up the healing and recovery time of patients, many of whom have a decreased appetite and cannot tolerate certain foods. Cancer can impair the body's absorption of important nutrients, and eating well may even help some individuals handle higher doses of certain cancer treatments. In addition, the typical American high-fat, empty calorie diet can set the stage for an inflammatory response that fuels a cancer patient's disease, undermines treatment, and promotes malnutrition.

 We in Connecticut are fortunate to have a vibrant and diverse network of small farms providing fresh, locally grown produce, much of it organic. As a result, it is becoming ever easier to obtain nutrient-rich, chemical-free and flavorful fruits and vegetables.

 One local woman has taken nourishing the community and cancer patients to heart. Margaret Feeney created Feeney Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Fairfield, with the mission of donating organic produce to local cancer patients and survivors. For 2011, the farm’s goal is to provide vegetables to local cancer patients and survivors once a week, from June to September, in order to positively effect individuals’ cancer treatment while encouraging more local awareness about the role of dietary choices in maintaining health and preventing disease.

 Feeney Farm is shining examples of one person’s decision to not only change her own life, but to change the lives of others. Over and above the obvious health benefits, the simple choice to increase fresh fruits and vegetables into our daily diet can have a dramatically positive effect on the prognosis and the progression of disease. Eating fresh locally grown produce supports the community, supports healthy living, and fosters appreciation of the simple pleasure of robust and flavorful food on the family plate.

For more information about diet and cancer, the following research is available:

The Effect of Diet on Risk of Cancer. T.Key, N.Allen, E.Spencer, R.Travis. The Lancet, Volume 360, Issue 9336, Pages 861-868.

Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: A review of the epidemiological evidence. Gladys Block; Blossom Patterson; Amy Subar. Nutrition and Cancer, 1532-7914, Volume 18, Issue 1, 1992, Pages 1 – 29.

Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables Are from Additive and Synergistic Combinations of Phytochemicals. Rui Hai Liu. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 517S-520S, September 2003

For more information about Feeney Farm or to volunteer or donate, visit FeeneyFarm.org. For more information on CT’s Farms, markets and produce resources visit FarmFresh.org and see page xx for a listing of Fairfield County Farmers’ Markets.