cancer prevention

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Passport to Health: Greece

health secrets of GreeceThe people of Greece have figured a lot of things out when it comes to knowing how to live a happy, healthy life. It makes sense–Greece is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine.

Have you ever been to Greece? My husband and I went many years ago, in the BC years (Before Children, of course). We started in Athens and then spent a week island-hopping. And if you’ve never been–go. It’s absolutely gorgeous: sun-washed, distinctive architecture, sparkling sea, incredibly laid-back culture, fabulous food. If it isn’t paradise…well, it comes pretty close.

That said, if a trip to Greece isn’t on the horizon for you anytime soon, the least you can do is steal their secrets for a life well-lived. (It’s not like we haven’t done it before…read this, and this, and this for previous Passport to Health posts.)

So what are the Greek secrets to a healthy life? Some fairly simple stuff, as it turns out. One of the most interesting is this: napping!

Napping for health

In Greece (like many Mediterranean and warm-weather countries, like Spain, Egypt, and Italy), it’s a common thing to take a mid-afternoon siesta. To their benefit.

Researchers have cottoned on to this health habit. In a study of over 23,000 Greek men & women between ages 20 and 86, over the course of 6 years, they found that people who took a 30-minute siesta at least 3 times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. Other studies have corroborated this: countries where siestas are common tend to have lower levels of heart disease.

One theory why napping helps keep your heart healthy? A regular nap may help you relax more and have lower stress levels.  Or, perhaps nappers are generally getting more rest, more sleep…and there’s plenty of research to now show that getting sufficient sleep is associated with lowered blood pressure, lower rates of obesity, and improved brain health.

“Let your food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”

Sounds like a mantra for the explosive trend toward organic food, food cures, and holisitic nutrition, right? But that quote belongs to Hippocrates. 4th century BC, baby. Western medicine, you guys.

The Greeks have long practiced this principle, and now the research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean? Read this.

Then there’s all that walking…

Like many European cultures, walking is a way of life. When my husband and I visited the island of Santorini, we rented a Vespa one day. (Sidebar–this was so fun, I can’t even tell you. Zipping around a sun-bleached island, making pit stops at little cafes and beaches…). But when we started on the steep hill up to a famous archaeological site, which involved some rather sharp switchbacks…well, people were walking at a faster pace than we were motoring up. They were passing us on the switchbacks. This might have been a little embarrassing. Just maybe.

Anyway, the walking thing is a big deal in Greece. And I think we all know this is a good idea. Here’s how to incorporate more walking in your life.

For more Passport to Health articles, read these next:

Passport to Health: French Paradox

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around The World

Passport to Health Part Deux

Passport to Health: Norway

How To Face The Fear Of Cancer

I have written about cancer in the past (how to prevent it, what foods help fight it, new research into prevention…), and I’ve certainly touched on the fear of cancer in previous posts (and TV appearances!). But today, on Yummy Mummy Club, my post is all about the fear of cancer. That’s because the fear of cancer is HUGE. A recent study showed that 70% of us fear cancer–and that’s over and above all other (suitably fear-inducing) illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

So in the face of something so terrifying, where do you start? How do you begin to conquer a fear of cancer?

Well, I have some thoughts. Head on over to my YMC post, Facing A Fear Of Cancer, to see what I’ve got to say.

Can Stress Shorten Your Life?

I have long maintained that stress is a major, under-recognized trigger for illness and unwell. I have little doubt that stress contributed to my own health crisis.

And now, an important study has come out validating that connection. The study was published this week in the British Medical Journal. It was a large study, looking at more than 68,000 adults over the age of 35. Individuals were given a stress score, through a survey that asked about things like losing sleep due to worry, difficulty concentrating, and having trouble overcoming difficulties.

And, alarmingly, they found that people with more distress were more likely to die. Most of the causes of death were due to heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Moreover, the effect of stress was dose-dependent. Which means: the higher an individual’s stress score, the higher their chance of dying. To account for the chicken-and-egg possibility that it’s illness that causes stress, and not the other way around, the researchers discounted all early deaths–ie. people who had died within 5 years of the observation period. (Making it much less likely that it was the illness that caused the distress.)

And they still found a strong association between stress and death.

In fact, as reported on MedicineNet:

People with mild distress were about 29% more likely to die of heart disease or stroke than people who reported no distress. Mild distress didn’t seem to raise the risk for cancer.

People with moderate levels of distress were about 43% more likely to die of any cause. And people with high levels of distress were 94% more likely to die during the study than people with no distress.

All this is not really a surprise. But having the research to back up common wisdom on stress and health is extremely validating. And, ultimately, helps with my endgame: encouraging more people to get serious about stress management.

If you’re on board with that plan, where to start? You need a toolbox! Here ya go:

Passport to Health: Part Deux

In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.


Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.

The Netherlands

Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?


A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?  


The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.


And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.

Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.

My Recent TV Interview Re Safe Sun Habits

Yesterday I was on Breakfast Television Vancouver again, this time chating with the lovely Jody Vance about keeping your skin healthy in the sun (in spite of the pouring rain in Vancouver yesterday!). You can see the clip here (and watch me squeeze sunscreen into a shot glass…)

The Sun & Your Health

In my last post I talked about a few ideas to help you trim down for summer—and, more particularly—for swimsuit season. So, once you finally feel ready to brave the great outdoors in nothing but a few bits and pieces of fabric…you’re going to need to think about the sun.

For some of you, there will be temptation to sneak into a tanning salon to get a little color in your skin before revealing those pasty limbs. I feel your anxiety on that. I have a Welsh mother and an English father. The British are not known for their golden coloring.

So…what’s the deal with indoor tanning? Is it okay? And…while we’re at it, maybe we should cover a few other issues surrounding the sun and your health. Like vitamin D. And sunscreen.

But let’s start by tackling the base tan/indoor tanning issue. Doesn’t getting a base tan protect your skin?

The base tan thing is a myth, sadly—there is no evidence it protects your skin. Basically, tanned skin is damaged skin. And the damage inflicted by UV rays accelerates skin aging, and increases your risks of skin cancer. The pigment you get in your skin with a base tan is estimated to translate to an SPF of approximately 2-3. That’s well below the recommended SPF 30. Basically, you might have bought yourself a little more time in the sun before burning, but it’s come at a cost. Better to use sunscreen.

And while we’re on it, what is the damage that’s caused by the sun, exactly? UV light causes age spots and hyperpigmentation, broken capillaries, and it damages the elastic tissue in our skin so tissues sag and wrinkle. Fact is, most skin aging, on your face and hands, is due to repeated sun exposure (and only a little bit due to actual aging). Prematurely aged skin? Not cute.

And then, of course, the sun causes precancerous skin lesions and skin cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it’s caused by UV exposure. It’s a form of skin cancer that is, unfortunately, on the rise. And it’s very preventable.

One way to start is to definitely avoid indoor tanning salons. The World Health Organization recently moved tanning beds to its highest-risk category for causing cancer (Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans)—meaning it’s in the same category of carcinogen as cigarettes, arsenic, asbestos, and plutonium.

The thing about sun damage to your skin is it takes a long time to show up. But then you can’t go back in time and change your behaviour. And this is exactly why it’s important to educate kids and protect their skin.

There are lots of reasons to teach your kids about sun safety, and a few things you need to do. You gotta cover them up with sunscreen and a hat to protect them from getting a sunburn. Sunburns hurt! Obviously. I know you don’t want your poor munchkin to be in pain. Also? Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than double’s a kid’s risk of someday developing skin cancer. The other reason for teaching kids about sun safety is that maybe, just maybe, future generations will relent on the tan obsession thing. It was that way once—pale used to be ideal. It was a sign of the “leisure class”. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good class to belong in.) Anyway, maybe one day the ideal will be “pale and interesting”, as they say.

Now what about vitamin D? Isn’t it true that we get vitamin D from the sun? Yes, that is the traditional way our bodies have made vitamin D. But, given the risks of unprotected sun exposure, it’s far better to get your vitamin D through food sources, or supplements. I’m a big fan of vitamin D, but it’s not worth the skin damage to get it from the sun.

Finally, let’s talk sunscreen. Here’s what you need to know: look for a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects from both UVA rays and UVB. The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a minimum SPF 30, and that’s what I recommend too. But—and this is key—make sure you’re applying enough sunscreen. Most people don’t. To adequately cover, head to toe, before heading to the beach, you need to use a full ounce (a shot glass full) of sunscreen. And you need to reapply every two hours, plus after swimming or exercising/sweating heavily.

Lying out in the sun feels good—it’s warming, relaxing, and gives that nice, healthy glow—but it’s anything but healthy, unfortunately. Get those good feelings from something else–a great book, a day at the spa, or some yoga perhaps?

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Should You Be Taking Vitamin D?

Are you getting enough vitamin D? Probably not.

Would you feel any symptoms if you had low levels? Nope.

Does it matter? Big. Fat. Yes.

I have covered this topic before. But it’s so near and dear to my heart that I think it warrants a re-visit. Over on my blog on Yummy Mummy Club, you can read my latest article all about why Vitamin D can give you an excellent edge on your health–and more importantly–how to get more of it!

My Recent TV Appearance About Cancer Prevention

Yesterday was Daffodil Day–which means it was the big day for cancer awareness in Canada, as designated by the Canadian Cancer Society. I was honoured to be invited, for the occasion, to appear on Breakfast Television Vancouver to talk about cancer. Specifically, we focused on ways you can protect yourself from cancer. Click this link to watch the segment. And if you’d like to read a little more, here are my most recent posts on cancer prevention:

7 Cancer Fighting Foods

10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

How Aspirin May Help Protect You From Cancer

7 Cancer Fighting Foods

April is Cancer Awareness Month. (Watch for me on Breakfast Television in Vancouver on Friday morning, we’re talking about cancer prevention!)

Here, I’ve rounded up a few delicious things that can help you prevent cancer. Feast on these:


Garlic is bursting with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Several large studies have found that people who eat more garlic have a lower risk of developing cancer, especially cancer in the digestive organs. Freshly crushed garlic is your best bet–probably better than supplements.

Cruciferous veggies

Think: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale. These nutritional powerhouses are packed with anticancer phytonutrients that have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation, inhibit carcinogens, and slow cancer cell growth. With cruciferous veg, you should cook them lightly and chew them thoroughly to release all the active molecules.

Green tea

Green tea is full of potent antioxidants. One subset of antioxidants–catechins–are particularly noteworthy in the fight against cancer. Lab studies have found that catechins can shrink tumors and reduce tumor cell growth, and may have a protective effect against cancer, breast cancer especially. Black tea and green tea both contain catechins, but green tea has approximately three times the amount.

Citrus fruit

Oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit are well-known to contain tons of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. But it turns out there are useful phytonutrients in the peel of citrus fruits, too–these nutrients are called limonoids, and one recent study showed a reduction in skin cancer rates with limonoid consumption. You’re probably not going to start munching on orange peel, straight-up…but you could use the zest for sauces and baking, no?


A staple in curries and Indian food, the active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin–which is a potent antioxidant. It’s a compound that’s under a lot of investigation currently, as it’s showing great promise in the fight against cancer. (Plus: yum!)


Tomatoes are off the chart on antioxidants and phytochemicals, but it’s especially lycopene–the compound that gives tomatoes their red color–that’s been shown to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer, notably against prostate cancer. The interesting thing about lycopene is that it becomes even more bioavailable after cooking and processing.

Dried beans & peas

Legumes contain flavonoids–and research shows that flavonoids protect against cancer by affecting cell growth, and also via antioxidant activity. They’re also high in fiber, which is known to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Also these are foods that help you maintain a healthy weight–and obesity is an independent risk factor for cancer.

Interested in other ways to prevent cancer? Read this next: 10 Tips to Prevent Cancer. And then this: Cut Your Cancer Risk With This One Simple Thing.

You Say Tomato…

People bat around the word superfood pretty blithely these days, which is easy, because there’s no real definition. Scientists tend to use the term “functional food” (meaning: food which provides a clinically proven and documented health benefit) but it’s not quite as sexy, is it?

Anyway, I like the term superfood, but I try to reserve it for only the best cases. And today I’m going to talk about one such case. The gorgeous food known as: the tomato.

Tomatoes are packed full of antioxidants. Carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin E…basically, tomatoes are off the chart when it comes to phytochemicals. In particular, though, it’s lycopene that gets the most attention. Lycopene is the compound that happens to give tomatoes their luscious red color, and it confers all sorts of health benefits. It’s also unusual in one property: it becomes even more bioavailable after cooking and processing. So you can benefit from tomato consumption even if you’re having tomato sauce or tomato paste.

The tomato has been shown to be anticancer. This is primarily due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of the nutrients in tomatoes. The evidence is strongest for prostate cancer–much research shows that regular tomato consumption can reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer. But there are also studies showing that tomatoes can help prevent pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and certain types of lung cancer, too.

Tomatoes are also good for your heart: they have been shown to improve cholesterol profile. They have anti-platelet activity. And it’s probably no coincidence that the tomato features heavily in the Mediterranean diet, well-known to be a heart-healthy way to go (and delish, besides).

Interestingly, there’s also some early research to indicate that tomatoes are good for our bones, specifically due to carotenoids and lycopene. Recent studies have shown that these antioxidants may be beneficial for bone density, and that poor intake correlates to low bone density and increased risk of fracture. (For more about bone health, read this.)

Another thing that’s great about tomatoes? They are just so damn easy to incorporate into your diet. Throw some fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt onto toasted baguette…world’s best bruschetta.

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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