For over 30 years, we’ve contended clinically that healthier diets will foster longer, better living for cancer patients. Simply put — improved survival.
But what specifically do we understand as “healthier”? Generally, our dietary principles rely primarily on plant-based proteins plus cold water fish, emphasize complex carbohydrates – whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits – eliminating simple, refined carbs, advising only high quality fats but in very low amounts, and include seeds and nuts. Recently, excellent news from a very large scientific study produced solid data that validate these same principles which determine our dietary recommendations.
NHANES, a highly respected US nutritional survey has been conducted for decades involving approximately nearly 33,000 people. University of Florida researchers combed through this massive NHANES data to analyze records of 1,200 cancer patients who responded between 1988 and 1994 to nutritional \questions – essentially records of everything eaten in a day. Survey participants were re-contacted regularly to check on their health and survival.
To tease out actual dietary effects, researchers used the Healthy Eating Index which assigns 10 points for food intake that conforms to recommendations for specific healthy food items, and 0 points for unhealthy choices. For instance, patients got 10 points for eating 3-5 vegetable servings and 10 points for 2-4 daily fruit servings. And a 10 points reflects their eating less than 30% fat, with 0 points if they ate more than 45% fat.
Additionally, they received 10 points for ingesting less saturated fat than 10% of their total caloric intake, but 0 points if they ate more than 15% saturated fat. The Index continues to be used in nutritional studies, but the latest 2015 version awards maximal points for saturated fat less than 8% of calories. It also awards points for eating whole grains, whole fruits, fish and seafood along with plant proteins, while keeping added sugars at no more than 6.5% of calories.
Importantly, the researchers tracked how long cancer patients survived over the course of more than 20 years, a truly impressive long-term perspective. They assessed how many cancer patients died specifically from cancer, and how many from cancer plus other causes, such as heart disease, a major risk for many early-stage breast, prostate and colon cancer patients. Here’s what they found
For all cancer patients including skin cancer patients: Those in the highest 25% of healthy eating scores showed a 65% drop in deaths specifically from cancer.
Besides computing effects of total Healthy Eating Index scores, researchers calculated the effects of individual food components like vegetables, fruits and saturated fat. Only saturated fat had a significant effect on mortality when examined by itself: Those in the top 25% — consuming less than 10% saturated fats — showed a 45% drop in cancer deaths.
The overall message of this very important long-term study is consistent with what we’ve been saying for decades and witnessing clinically: A diet that is low in fat – and definitely low in saturated fat — as well as high in complex carbs including vegetables and fruit can help you survive cancer! In sum, no evidence in this large study supports assertions that high fat diets like the ketogenic or paleo approaches will help cancer survival. In fact the opposite was revealed.
If you have questions or concerns about how to use diet to improve your chances of cancer survival, contact us at the Block Center at 1-877-41-BLOCK. Our registered dietitians stay up-to-date on the best in current cancer and diet research, and will work with you one-on-one with practical ideas for tailoring your plan to match what can benefit you individually. Call now and get started on the road to your enhanced health!