Prostate Cancer and Diet

prostate cancer dietFried foods and simple sugars are out, olive oil, peanut butter and avocados are in. And this time I’m not talking about lowering your cholesterol. I’m talking about increasing the chance of survival from prostate cancer. It isn’t a rare disease, one in six men over their lifetime are affected, although most will die with the disease not because of it. There is a genetic component but what about diet? Two questions arise. Can diet increase the risk of prostate cancer, and if the disease does present can any specific diet improve the odds for survival? There is some evidence that a diet rich in oily fish can slash the chance of death from prostate cancer by some 40%. On the other hand, according to a recent study in the peer-reviewed journal, The Prostate, yes there is a journal devoted to the health of this organ, snacking on deep fried foods at least once a week increased the risk of cancer by up to 37% in comparison to indulging less than once a month. How do researchers arrive at such data? In this case it was by a detailed comparison of food frequency questionnaires completed by men diagnosed with prostate cancer with those filled out by healthy men of similar age. Allowances were made for family history and racial background. Why fried foods are implicated isn’t totally clear but it is well known that carcinogenic compounds like acrylamide, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and advance glycation end products form when foods are heated to a high temperature. If you’re going to eat a chicken breast, better it be in chicken soup than deep fried. A deep fried breast contains nine times as many carcinogens than boiled.
Alright, so we try to stay away from fried foods, but most people aren’t very motivated until disease strikes. What to do then? Of course, still minimize foods cooked at a high temperature. But what else? Substitute vegetable fats such as olive and canola oils, nuts, seeds and avocados for animal fats and simple carbohydrates. That advice comes from a Harvard study that followed nearly 4600 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer between 1986 and 2010. Men who replaced 10% of their total daily calories from carbohydrates with healthy vegetable fats had an almost 30% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer and a 26% lower risk of dying from all causes. On the other hand, replacing 5 percent of those calories with saturated fat, or just 1 percent with trans fat, was tied to a 25 to 30 percent higher risk of death during the study period. So what does one do on a practical basis? It seems that just one serving of nuts a day lowers the risk of death from prostate cancer by 18%. Reducing meat intake is desirable, but there are other simple things one can do. Instead of white rice or spaghetti, have a salad with a vinaigrette using one tablespoon of olive oil. Instead of a medium potato, have half an avocado. Instead of a cold cut sandwich, have a peanut butter sandwich. Try a tomato sandwich made with half an avocado spread on whole grain bread. It is becoming clear that the low fat mantra is outdated, not only for prostate cancer but heart disease as well. Increasing fat intake can actually be healthy, as long as it is the right kind of fat. And that isn’t the animal variety. Why vegetable fats are healthy remains to be elucidated but it probably is related to their ability to reduce inflammation and increase antioxidant levels in the blood. So bring on the chicken soup, salad, hummus, guacamole and olive oil and place donuts, fries, burgers and barbecue chicken into the “occasional” category.

Joe Schwarcz

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