By JACQUI MEY:
When Jane’s* beloved pet dog Sandy died from cancer last year, she began asking questions. Mr. and Mrs. Brown knew they had a difficult task in explaining what this disease entailed to their seven-year-old child.
“Cancer takes people and puppies to heaven.”
As Jane confidently paraded around her new fact for the week, she certainly stepped on a few people’s toes. The term cancer has almost become taboo in most western societies with the disease accounting for every 3 in 10 deaths in Australia. In Australia alone 20 million dollars a year goes into cancer research, but what do scientists know now that they did not know 10 years ago?
Cancer is a disease that refers to cells rapidly growing and spreading throughout the human body. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention state there are over 100 different types of cancer and this disease impacts every race differently. Some races are predisposed to certain types of cancer, mainly due to environmental reasons. For example, caucasians are more prone to skin cancer than African Americans because of their skin tone. Asian cultures, an eastern civilization, have significantly lower mortality rates than all other races over various types of cancer.
According to Hollie Jenkins from Cancer Council Australia, a healthy balanced diet reduces the risk of getting cancer. The Australian Government defines a healthy diet by giving the recommended amount of various foods you should eat daily. This consists of grain foods, vegetables (beans & legumes), lean meats (poultry, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds), and fruits and dairy, all in moderation. Foods such as chocolate, alcohol and processed foods are only recommended in small amounts.
The Cancer Council agreed with the guidelines giving particular emphasis on an individual’s fibre intake. A diet rich in fibre and wholegrain can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, whilst a diet high in processed red meats can increase the chance of developing cancer. However the Cancer Council states that alternative treatment may be necessary if you have been diagnosed with cancer and a healthy diet cannot cure you from this disease.
There are many altering treatments for the large variety of cancers globally.
Throughout Asian countries Chinese Herbal Medicine is widely used to treat all types of cancers. Herbal medicine believes in restoring the ‘Yin and Yang’ balance in ones body by using all natural ingredients.
The ‘Yin and Yang’ theory is the opposing forces of the universe – “to have bad there must be good, to have warmth there must be cold.” When an individuals ‘Yin and Yang’ is out of balance herbal remedies are used to restore order. For example, cancer is seen as a universal imbalance within oneself and is treated with various natural herbs. Whilst many western doctors do not believe in a natural cure to cancer, Chinese Herbal Medicine has shown great promise in clinical trials.
Could this attribute to the lower cancer mortality rate among eastern cultures?
Dietitian and nutritionist Alesha Wilson made sense of these connections saying the overall diet of eastern cultures is based around fresh local produce. With further research she is confident this is the reason why Asian communities have lower mortality rates.
Fundamental to eastern diets is fresh vegetables, which is common in particular Chinese cuisine. This includes leafy greens that are native to the country but varies depending on whether you are in the north or south in China. Bok Choy, bamboo shoots and silk squash are common vegetables used throughout Asian cuisine. These fresh vegetables give the body nutrients it needs, and is an essential ingredient incorporated in every meal within many eastern cultures. Whilst eastern civilisations do indulge in fast foods and high processed foods homemade meals tend to be more popular due to their history and culture.
Fruit and Vegetable market
Jane is from a typical western family where fast food is part of their weekly diet.
“I do not really like anything green on my plate, but mum says if I eat it all I can have ice cream.”
Australia residents spend over 37 million dollars a year on takeaway food that is high in fat and sodium content. Food high in preservatives and additives are easily accessible in every grocery store. These highly processed foods could increase our chance in developing cancers.
Who said this???
“A well balanced diet full of fresh product will reduce your chances of getting many lifestyle diseases and with further research it will prove to reduce cancer mortality.”\
In most eastern cultures rice is another staple food, and for many it is eaten in the three main meals of the day. Not only is rice high in fibre it is also rich in selenium, an element currently undergoing its connecting with cancer prevention.
Cancer Council Australia believe there is not enough evidence providing any connection between selenium and cancer prevention, however both Jenkins and Wilson recommend opting for the whole meal choice as there is scientific proof that a diet high in fibre does in fact reduce the risk of bowel cancer and heart disease.
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition have been studying the impact of diet on cancer mortality rates since 1992 and found significant evidence supporting that a diet high is fibre reduces the risk of cancer. Doctor Lenore Arab has been studying the link between diet and cancer and has concluded that a bad diet mimics tobacco intake.
“Apples are good for you because…mum says so.”
Jane confidently announces her weekly fact at the dinner table. Could Jane be right? Should we wait until scientist prove that eating healthy prevents a disease that takes over 8 million lives a year or should we start eating healthy just because.
There is evidence supporting that having a healthy diet improves your quality of life overall, so why is there processed foods readily available when scientists believe they may have some link to cancer?
Since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s western country’s obesity rates have been on a steady incline. This is due to the change in western cultures education system which, according to author of The Obesity Epidemic Zoe Harcombe, is the root of the problem.
The education system did a complete 360 in health class when they stopped teaching children about the importance of vegetables as the rise of fast food companies filled their mouths with sugar, salt, and additives.
Wilson explains that fast food is highly processed items that are ‘Hyper Rewarding’ which leads to overeating. Hyper Rewarding is a term used to describe foods that are sweet, salty, and fatty which our bodies are naturally driven to because they are full of energy. Fast food chains know this so it has become a competitive field of unhealthy food.
The overall issue with fast foods is that the original nutritional value of the product is diminished by the addition of preservatives, an element added to the food to increase its shelf life. Before this time 3 per cent of people in the UK had a Body Mass Index, or BMI, greater than 30 which is considered obese. Today more than two thirds of adults are considered overweight or obese.
Eastern countries were not hit as hard by the fast food giants and continue to teach the importance of fresh produce not only in schools but also within their culture. Their obesity statistics are on a snail pace rise, however those of Asian decent who have migrated to a western country have increased their chance of getting cancer by nearly 20 per cent.
Primary and early childhood teacher Jessica Brooks believes that a healthy lifestyle has to be taught at an early age and continue throughout the child’s entire education. From preschool, children are taught what is good food and what is bad food through story time and outdoor activities.
Brooks states that when children are younger it is easy to teach them good habits. By providing a healthy lunch menu the focus is all about eating fresh produce. Many programs are also installed to promote a balanced lifestyle; morning tea has been renamed to “Crunch & Sip” where each child can select a piece of fruit or vegetable and a cup of water before they exercise outdoors.
Being apart of the Crunch & Sip program for three years Jane still does not understand why fruit and vegetables are so important.
“Mum says that fruits make you grow up to be big and strong.”
Having worked with children aged between 0 and 13 years, Brooks has been a part of the education system for nearly 6 years. The Australian syllabus enforces children from years kindergarten to 10 to learn about the food pyramid, exercising, and having an overall healthy lifestyle. From grade 3 to 10 the focus becomes on physical activity rather than food. By this age children are expected to recognise what food is good and bad for you, these children however are not told why the food is good or bad for them. Jane is right, eating healthy is good for you simply because ‘mum says so’.
The Australian Government spend millions of dollars a year on healthy lifestyle advertisements including “go for 2 and 5” promoting eating 2 fresh pieces of fruit and 5 vegetables daily, and “get moving” encouraging individuals to get outdoors and exercise. The target audience for these government campaigns is children below 16, Jane being a part of this group said “I can have a lot of vegetables but only a little bit of chocolate.”
(SOURCE) More than 10.8 million Australians are classified as overweight or obese. Wilson believes that children know that fresh fruit and vegetables are good for them but do not know why, whilst the syllabus teaches children to eat healthy. If they are taught why, obesity rates will dramatically fall.
If the next generation is taught that the human body needs particular nutrients and vitamins that come from fresh produce, people are more likely to make the healthy choice when it comes to food. Children need to be educated on how to prepare and grow their own fruits and vegetables, and school systems need to create a healthy relationship between children and fresh food so later in life they make the right choices.
Whilst a healthy diet continues to be studied globally with its link to cancer prevention should we take a page out of our eastern neighbour’s book and eat more fresh produce? After all, mum says so.
*Due to privacy issues ‘Jane’ has been used to replace the child’s real name.