We’ve always known that one of life’s cruelties is that the stuff we love to eat, the stuff that tastes best, usually isn’t very good for you.
We know what bad (and by that I mean good) food does. It packs on the pounds, makes people overweight, and worse, obese. But here’s something that most folks night not know: Being overweight or obese is linked to 40% of the cancers in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even more alarming: Obesity is linked to the vast majority—about two-in-three—cancers among adults aged 50 to 74. Notes the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health: “there is consistent evidence that higher amounts of body fat are associated with increased risks of a number of cancers, including some of these common ones:
Liver cancer: People who are overweight or obese are up to twice as likely as normal-weight people to develop liver cancer. The association between overweight/obesity and liver cancer is stronger in men than women.
Kidney cancer: People who are overweight or obese are nearly twice as likely as normal-weight people to develop renal cell cancer, the most common form of kidney cancer. The association of renal cell cancer with obesity is independent of its association with high blood pressure, a known risk factor for kidney cancer.
Pancreatic cancer: People who are overweight or obese are about 1.5 times as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as normal-weight people.
Colorectal cancer: People who are obese are slightly (about 30%) more likely to develop colorectal cancer than normal-weight people.
Breast cancer: Many studies have shown that in postmenopausal women, a higher Body-Mass Index (BMI) is associated with a modest increase in risk of breast cancer. For example, a 5-unit increase in BMI (more on this below) is associated with a 12% increase in risk. Obesity is also a risk factor for breast cancer in men.
There are many more cancers, obviously, but you get the idea here.
As for body-mass index, you probably know what this is—it’s a number based on your height and weight. The lower the number, the better. You can figure your BMI here:
The CDC says your BMI number is a “fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people, and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.”
Meanwhile, eating right has another giant benefit: It can strengthen our defenses against some of the most feared maladies of old age, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Before going further, I’d like to point out that some people misuse these terms. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms.”
Regardless of this distinction, both afflictions can be fought by eating well. I’ve written before of the amazing research done by Harvard University Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist, faculty member at the famed Harvard Medical School and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.”
Want to keep your memory sharp and maintain your ability to focus in older age? Naidoo writes in a blog post that you should avoid these foods:
Added sugars. Things like baked goods, sodas and breakfast cereals. Become a label reader. Women shouldn’t consume more than 25 grams of added sugar a day; men 36.
Fried Foods. French fries, onion rings, fried chicken. We love these foods, but they cause inflammation which can damage the blood vessels that deliver oxygenated blood to the brain.
High-carb foods like white bread, white rice, pasta, and anything made from refined flour. Stick to “better-quality” carbs such as whole grains and food that’s high in fiber.
Nitrates—cured meats like bacon, salami and sausage — nitrates may be linked to depression. Naidoo cites one study saying that “Nitrated meat products are associated with mania in humans and altered behavior and brain gene expression in rats.”
Alcohol is not only loaded with sugar, but overdoing it, reports the British Medical Journal, conveys a higher risk of dementia. But go ahead and enjoy a drink every once in a while: the report adds that completely abstaining from booze can also be harmful. I suppose the advice here is all things in moderation.
Of course, eating right is a must, but to keep truly fit you’ve got to exercise as well. The general recommendation is well-known: most older adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (about 20 minutes a day), 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (about 10 minutes a day).