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RAISING AWARENESS: The World Health Organization (WHO) points to a "disturbing rise" in the number of cancer patients. Long-term projections show that cancer cases are expected to double by 2030. February 4 is observed as World Cancer Day globally, to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
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DIET CAN HELP: While there are many leading causes of cancer, one of the key reasons is also lifestyle related, including diet. Specific diet choices and foods with increased nutritional properties along with an active lifestyle can help reduce the risk of cancer.
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Dr. Dana Al Hamwi, a Dubai Health Authority (DHA)-approved clinical dietician at India Gate, shares six food items that can help you stay healthy and lower your risk of cancer.
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FLAX SEEDS: Flax Seeds are one of the richest sources of Lignan, is a Phytoestrogen, a plant-specific nutrient similar to the hormone estrogen. This similarity can cause the production of less active forms of estrogen in postmenopausal women, which aids in reducing the risk of cancer.
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FLAX SEEDS RICH IN PHYTOESTROGEN: The cancer risk is lowered because of the way the phytoestrogens affect our cells. They help start a process known as apoptosis, which is programmed cell death. When a cell detects faults that could become cancerous, it will induce apoptosis to avoid copying the fault that could become cancerous. Phytoestrogens specifically found in lignan promote this process. The benefits are only present if taken as part of your diet, not as a supplement. Dr. Dana Al Hamwi, a dietician, advises taking up to 3 tablespoons per day, and incorporating it into your favourite meals. Add it to yoghurt, kefir, or smoothies. It gives every food a richer and nutty flavour so it can also be used in salads or added to baked goods.
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CHIA SEEDS: Chia seeds are another source of lignan, meaning they can inhibit cancer cell growth the same way as flax seeds do. Chia seeds also have alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that you can find in plant foods, and have been proven to inhibit the growth of not just breast cancer, but also cervical cancer. You can use chia seeds as an alternative source for lignan, but ideally, you want to use both chia and flax seeds, as each has its mix of beneficial nutrients. Chia seeds are also a great addition to smoothies, desserts, cereals, breads and breakfast bars.
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SPROUTED BROWN RICE: Sprouting whole grains breaks down their phytic acid, which hampers the absorption of minerals, like the magnesium, calcium and zinc in rice. Decreasing the phytic acid makes these important minerals more bioavailable to your body. It contains more phytic acid than other types of rice, an acid that inhibits cancer cell development. Sprouted (or germinated) brown rice is similar to regular brown rice; it’s not as chewy, but it has more nutrients. It has quadruple the amount of fibre and vitamin E than in regular rice, and triple the amount of vitamins B1, B6, and magnesium, according to Dr. Dana Al Hamwi. Sprouted brown rice is versatile and can be added as a side or main dish, and even added to soups and salads.
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QUINOA: This ancient grain is a great protein source, being the only complete protein of all the plant-based options (this means it has all eight essential amino acids). It has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties thanks to the nutrients it holds. It’s full of polyphenols and saponins such as oleanolic acid that inhibit cancer growth but also have antimicrobial and antifungal properties too. Another ingredient found in quinoa are flavanols – specifically epigallocatechin, catechin, and epicatechin – which have antioxidant and antimutagenic properties. Photo shows quinoa cultivated at the Environment and Water Ministry’s Research Centre at Al Dhaid.
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DARK-GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES: Be it kale, salad greens, spinach, bok choy, or broccoli, they are full of fibre, meaning they will keep you full for longer, and have lots of magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. Their anti-cancer properties come from carotenoids – powerful antioxidants that suppress cancer cell growth. Make it a habit to regularly include dark leafy greens into your lunch, be it as a salad or side dish. Just be aware, however, that the more you cook dark-green leafy vegetables, the more nutrients they lose, said India Gate dietician Dr. Dana Al Hamwi.
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