I wrote an article in English for Rami Zurayk over at Al-Akhbar newspaper, based on a survey of the nutritional research published by UC San Francisco. It's titled Traditional Lebanese Foods Prevent Cancer and it's in today's edition (May 1, 2009). He translated it for me - I don't write Arabic that well!
English version below the jump. I do not know if the Arabic version is an exact translation.
Traditional Lebanese Foods Prevent Cancer
Breast cancer is on the rise among Lebanese women; diet is not the only factor, but changes in diet can help prevent or control this devastating illness. The University of California at San Francisco, a leading cancer hospital, compiled a pamphlet of the research on what to eat to fight breast cancer. Many of the foods suggested are familiar to Lebanese as mainstays of our traditional diet.
The Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina said 1,000 years ago: let food be your medicine. The following foods will strengthen your immune system and prevent cancer.
Fruits, vegetables and herbs in general contain many thousands of compounds which fight illness. The cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale, radish and watercress, have potent anti-cancer properties. Raw or short-cooked cabbage in particular has been shown in numerous studies to reduce incidence of breast cancer. All cruciferous vegetables contain compounds which stop growth and proliferation of tumors, and actually kill tumor cells. A raw cabbage salad eaten several times a week would give great benefit to cancer patients and healthy people alike. Cauliflower with tarator sauce is another healthy Lebanese dish.
Everyone should eat a wide range of fresh, pesticide-free produce every day. Lightly cooked or raw produce retain their nutrients better in most cases.
Researchers are excited about pomegranate, which suppresses cancer cell growth. The fermented juice and extracted seed oil have the greatest effect against cancer cells, but the fresh fruit and juice are also capable of blocking cell growth. Pomegranate syrup used in meat dishes and sauces can be eaten all year; in season, eat the fresh fruit.
Omega 3 fatty acids protect against breast cancer, and inhibit the growth of tumors. Cold-water fish such as herring, sardines, mackerel and tuna contain Omega 3s in forms easily accessible to the body. With the collapse of fisheries due to environmental degradation, fish has become less available. However, traditional Lebanese plant sources also yield significant Omega 3s, such as walnuts and purslane. Purslane is one of the highest plant sources of Omega 3s available. Eat fattoush salad with purslane and other dark leafy greens for a potent plant dish containing Omega 3s.
Combine pomegranate syrup with Omega 3-rich walnuts and burghul to make muhammara - a delicious dip that fights cancer in several ways!
Eggs taken from chickens raised traditionally tend to have higher Omega 3 concentrations as well. Factory-farmed eggs do not. Seek out local people who raise chickens and purchase eggs from them. Locally produced meat such as lamb, pastured in the open and raised with a minimum of antibiotics and hormones, is also much higher in Omega 3s.
Hydrogenated fats found in processed foods such as potato chips, cookies, cakes, and doughnuts are extremely bad for your health. These fats may very well contribute to inflammation which leads to cancer, and are proven to be bad for the heart. Don't eat packaged snack foods, or trendy American fried pastries. If you are feeling hungry, choose fruits, vegetables, or a protein for a snack. A handful of nuts would assuage hunger while giving your body healthy fats it needs to fight inflammation.
Whole grains like burghul and freekeh are very important to a cancer-prevention diet; legumes and pulses too provide great benefit. Fiber binds to carcinogens and expels them, and also reduces hormone levels that contribute to the progression of cancers. Lentils, chickpeas, white beans and all other beans are an important part of a cancer-fighting diet. Your grandmother's mjaddarah made with burghul (instead of white rice) will make you healthy.
Refined flour, rice and sugar increase serum insulin, which "appears to stimulate cancer cell growth." Cancer patients should eat much less sugar: fruit juices, pastries, candies; white flour is processed in the body like sugar, and should also be avoided. Cancer patients who wish to improve their diet ought to eat much more burghul and almost no white bread, white rice or sugar. Grains like brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa are not common in Lebanese cooking, but they can be quite tasty, and are much better for the digestion than a strictly wheat-based diet. If it's impossible to add these non-traditional whole grains to your diet, at least try to eat whole-grain breads.
Many nutritionists recommend eating live probiotic cultures found in yogurt. Modern over-use of antibiotics kills off good bacteria that need to live in our intestines to keep us healthy. Commercially processed yogurt often has no live cultures. When I visited Lebanon, I could taste the difference between home-made labni and the commercial stuff sold in tubs. Traditional yogurt and yogurt cheeses not only taste better, they have more vital probiotics which are an important part of a balanced digestive system.
In the same vein, research reveals the importance of traditional fermented pickles, such as sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) eaten in Europe. Lebanese pickles made at home without artificial preservatives, also possess healing and digestive properties. Pickled cucumbers, turnips, eggplants and others should remain in our cupboards and on our tables.
Turmeric is under research at MD Andersen, top hospital in Texas, for its potent anti-tumor properties. Even though turmeric is not used frequently in Lebanese home cooking, everyone should consider adding it to their diet. Other spices which have healthful properties include ginger, cinnamon and clove.
Parsley, which has many powerful nutrients, contains volatile oils-particularly myristicin- which inhibit tumor formation in animal studies. Lemon and orange are of course beneficial, due to the vitamin C in their juice, but the peel and the white pith may also fight tumors. Research on this last claim is not yet conclusive, but it cannot hurt to eat some white pith next time you consume an orange, as a preventive measure.
Lastly - doctors have discovered that vitamin D plays some role in supporting the immune system and suppressing tumors. Up until recently, doctors in the west were urging people to stay out of the sun, wear sunblock ointment, and cover faces and bodies. Now they are encouraging us to get a certain amount of sunshine every day, and even take Vitamin D supplements. As we become richer, we no longer need to go outside to work in the fields or walk around to our destinations. We drive in cars, we stay inside in the air conditioning. It is possible that our new ability to stay out of the sun all day, every day, is making us sick. Get outside and walk around, taking care not to let yourself be sun-burned. Physical exercise and vitamin D help to prevent and control cancer as well as many other illnesses.