….that is the question. When it comes to cancer prevention, the answer is clear: No!…..and, well….Yes! It all depends on what you are drinking. When it comes right down to it, there are some beverages which increase your risk of getting cancer, as well as many other chronic illnesses. There are others that have cancer fighting properties, or are just plain good for your overall health. First let’s take a look at the No’s:
…..sigh….(this coming from the woman who loves wine more than dessert). The fact is, alcohol is a known cause of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. It may also increase risk of cancer of the pancreas. It is not known exactly HOW drinking alcohol leads to cancer, but there is a definite link. Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health have shown that alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths. These findings, published in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, show that alcohol is a carcinogen, even when consumed in small amounts. Therefore reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption is an important cancer prevention strategy. While this study indicates that no amount of alcohol is safe, both the American and the Canadian Cancer Society recommend that people limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. (And no, it’s not ok to save them all up for the weekend.)
NO: Soda or energy drinks.
Two simple facts: they are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners, and they contain zero nutrients. It is a known fact that cancer loves sugar! Cancer cells consume anywhere from ten to fifty times more glucose than normal cells do! So in fact, when you feed your body sugar, you are actually feeding cancer cells. Excess soda can also lead to weight gain, which is another risk factor for cancer. If you think that switching to diet soda is better, think again. Diet soda drinkers have twice the amount of obesity than the general population. Artificial sweeteners are no better than sugar. They are up to 100 times sweeter than real sugar, which blunts the taste of nature’s sugar, such as that found in fruit. They also increase the craving for sugar since the brain has receptors designed for sugar that do not accept the artificial substitute. Don’t be fooled by drinks that tout “all natural flavors”, since these natural flavors that they speak of are actually Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in disguise! MSG is a neurotoxin that is hidden in many foods, under many different labels, including “natural flavors”. While there is no direct link between MSG and cancer, it has been linked to brain lesions, neuro-endocrine disorders, and neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
NO: Cow’s milk.
Humans are the only mammals on the planet who consume the milk of another mammal. We are not baby cows and our bodies were not designed to drink a beverage that nature intended to make calves gain hundreds of pounds in a matter of months! Whether or not dairy causes or promotes cancer is open to debate. The fact is, factory farms inject their cattle with a substance called IGF-1, which has been linked to cancer. In addition, in order to keep them producing milk, cows are also injected with estrogen, which we know feeds hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer. (Since the type of cancer that I had was estrogen fed, I avoid dairy like the plague!)
NO: Fruit juice.
What the…..? You heard me right. By extracting the juice from a fruit, you are getting rid of the fiber, which not only gives you good bowel habits, but also helps to remove toxins from the body. Drinking the juice without the fiber results in a higher glycemic load, and subsequent insulin spike. This allows the sugar to be more readily eaten up by awaiting cancer cells. (Even if you are a cancer survivor who is currently cancer free, these cells can remain in your body for the rest of your life. Do you really want to feed them?) For cancer prevention, it is best to eat the whole food, for example, an orange as opposed to having a glass of orange juice.
So then, what are the best beverages for cancer prevention?
The best beverage that you can drink to help flush toxins from your body is water. In 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It (p. 294), Susan does a great analysis of the different types of water and which are good for us. As a general rule, if your tap water is deemed safe to drink, this may be the healthiest and the cheapest option, as long as you filter the contaminants before drinking (for example, use a Brita filter). Chlorine is particularly damaging to the body, so it is a good idea to add a chlorine filter not just to your drinking water, but to your bathing water as well. Adding the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon to your water each day will also give it an extra cancer-fighting kick! For overall health, you should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
BAM! Five or more servings of fruits and veggies in one glass. Smoothies are a great way to combine the cancer-fighting properties of berries, fruits, veggies and seeds in a delicious and satisfying way. Here’s a tip: if you notice your fresh produce is about to go bad, chop it up and freeze it for smoothies. For a REALLY healthy smoothie, I suggest that you avoid dairy, and use a plant based milk as the base.
YES: Green tea.
Studies clearly show a link between green tea, and cancer prevention. One of the key cancer fighting agents in green tea is a compound called catechins. It is important to know that not all green teas are created equal. They may contain more or less catechins depending on factors such as where and when the tea was harvested, the type of plant used, and the processing techniques. Brewing time also plays a role in the release of catechins. Brewing tea for less than 5 minutes allows only about 20% of the catechins to be released, as opposed to brewing it for 8-10 minutes.
YES: Plant based milks.
With so many plant-based milks on the market now, why does anyone even bother with cow’s milk? Let’s take my favorite, almond milk, as an example. It contains the exact same amount of calcium as cow’s milk (30%). Regular cow’s milk contains 8 grams of fat and 30 mg of cholesterol per serving, whereas the same amount of almond milk contains only 3 grams of fat, and ZERO cholesterol. Clearly plant based milks are a healthier choice. (Caution: always buy “unsweetened”, as some flavored varieties are high in sugar, and make sure it does not contain carrageen, a potential carcinogen.)
When it comes to cancer prevention, what you drink is as important as what you eat. It would be unrealistic to expect you to change all of your habits over-night, but now that you know the facts on drinking for cancer prevention, you can start to make small changes. You might want to begin by reducing or eliminating one of the “NO’s” from the list above and adding one of the “YES’s”. As this becomes habitual to you, eliminate another NO and add another YES. Each simple change you make brings you one step closer to reaching your optimal health!