Cancer, as we know, can also be fought at the table. And the Christmas one, above all, offers various foods that are friendly to the fight against cancer. “From lentils to fish, from fennel to dried fruit, there are many ingredients of the Italian Christmas tradition that can prove to be precious allies both to prevent and to improve the response to immunotherapy and to counteract the side effects of treatments”.
What to prepare
Paolo Ascierto, director of the Department of Melanoma Oncology, Oncological Immunotherapy and Innovative Therapies of the National Cancer Institute Irccs Fondazione Pascale of Naples, suggests some of the anti-cancer dishes to be included in the menu for the upcoming holidays, on the occasion of the Immunotherapy Bridge and Melanoma conferences Bridge which took place in the Campania capital.
“Pasta and beans, stewed lentils, whole grain soup just like our grandmothers made them – explains Ascierto who chaired the two events – can improve the response to immunotherapy treatment in patients suffering from melanoma. Just like mushrooms, fennel , salmon, marinated herring and even liquorice can prevent the risk of developing skin cancer, as well as counteract the side effects of therapies”.
“In recent years, skin cancers have become increasingly common among young people: today in Italy they represent the third type of cancer most commonly found under the age of 50”, underlines the expert. And “it is now a common opinion – he confirms – that prevention also begins at the table. With regard to melanoma and skin carcinomas, some components of the diet such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals have shown protective effects, helping to fight free radicals and prevent the damage underlying tumor development. In particular, vitamins C, E and A, zinc, selenium, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, polyphenols and sulforaphanes are among the antioxidants that many specialists recommended to include in the diet to reduce the risk of skin cancer.” Prevention, but not only: “Having correct eating habits – specifies Ascierto – is also important during the therapeutic process to keep the immune system stronger, improve the effectiveness of the treatment itself, reduce side effects and therefore be able to continue the process, prevent relapses”.
In particular – recalls a note – it has been shown that patients diagnosed with melanoma undergoing immunotherapy have a better response to treatment if they consume a dish based on healthy proteins (fish, poultry, low-fat cheeses, legumes and dried fruit), if they avoid cured meats and processed meats if they use healthy vegetable oils as condiments (extra virgin olive oil is better); such as drinks, water and coffee: it is better to give up very sugary drinks. And if the colon suddenly causes problems for pharmacological treatments, Ascierto and his team recommend relying on herbal teas: mallow, lemon balm, fennel and chamomile. Again: a lemon risotto can help counteract gastrointestinal disorders, while ginger can combat the problems of anorexia and nausea associated with immunotherapy.
This is why the group of oncologists, dermatologists and dieticians directed by Ascierto constantly develops projects to anticipate the progress of the disease and spread the principles of a healthy and correct diet, based fundamentally on the Mediterranean diet and its phytonutrients: lycopene from tomatoes, resveratrol from grape peel, ellagic acid from dried fruit or sulforaphane from broccoli act as ‘scavengers’ of free radicals and protect cells from DNA damage.
Starred chefs also participate in these projects, as in the book ‘Prevenzione à la carte – anticipating the moves of skin tumors’, co-written by Ascierto, the Pascale dietician Anna Licia Mozzillo and the chef Gennaro Esposito, who ‘sign’ 16 healthy dishes, but also good to taste.
“It is no coincidence – Ascierto comments – the first to affirm that food is the first medicine was Hippocrates, father of medical sciences. Today, in confirmation, we know that diet can really affect the risk of getting cancer and the chances of recovery “.
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