Eating to reduce your risk of getting cancer


Toral Shah is a nutritional scientist, chef & founder of food consultancy The Urban Kitchen

She’s also a cancer survivor.

Shockingly, 12 members of her family have had cancer too so it’s not hard to understand why she’s devoted much of her career to spotlighting the best ways to use nutrition as a tool to help your immune system become as strong as possible.

In #HealthHackers ep 8, Toral talked to me about the foods we can eat to help prevent cancer and other diseases. 

Being a scientist, and working with many different types of patients - including those who are trying to prevent their cancer from coming back - Toral is an expert in the lifestyle changes that can make a real difference and reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Her first port of call is fruit and veg. You might think you know how important that is already - but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t eat enough of it. Do you have seven to nine portions a day? Think about that.

She’s also keen to remind us that we need an optimal vitamin D level. Toral takes a supplement to make sure her own levels are good.

Oily fish is another big player in preventing disease. Two to three portions a week could help delay the onset of menopause, according to Toral. That’s a positive thing because, as she explains in the episode, the younger you are when you go through the menopause - the more likely you are to get certain types of cancer.

If you enjoy red meat - Toral suggests limiting it to two servings per week and bear in mind that grass-fed animals are a better choice than those fed corn and soy on some commercial farms.

Top tip: ostrich and venison are heart-friendly meats, according to Toral.

When it comes to cooking your foods - don't burn it - that will create carcinogenic affect.

Then there’s the gut. 

“90% of our immune system is based in our gut,” Toral told me.

It makes sense then that we need to look after those beneficial microbes that live in our gut.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is a way to do that. As is throwing out your anti-bacterial hand soaps.

Toral’s a champion of eating a diverse range of foods so that we get lots of different types of microbes living in our guts. And with plenty of vegetables, we'll also be feeding the good bugs with the stuff they thrive on.

“Theoretically we have over 10,000 different organisms but so many people have reduced that by eating some of the same foods or cutting out food groups.”

I asked Toral for her views on the ultra-low carb ketogenic diet and its potential for helping slow tumour growth in mice. This is an interesting area for me because I was in ketosis for four years (see here for the reasons) and anything keto related fascinates me.

Toral's verdict was that we just don't have enough evidence yet and that limiting fruits and vegetables means a person won't be feeding the beneficial bacteria in their gut optimally.

Cancer and, let’s face it, all diseases feel like illnesses over which we have absolutely no control, but hearing Toral speak in #HealthHackers ep 8 is a reminder that there are things we can do to take back some of that control. 

Just thinking about what you put on your plate everyday is a very powerful tool to start of with - and Toral has plenty of recipes to help you do that. Check out her website here.

Find Toral on Twitter @urbankitchen and on Instagram @theurbankitchen.

Subscribe to #healthHackers on iTunes here to never miss a show.

Watch #HealthHackers Ep 8 with Toral Shah: