Popular TV host Coleen Nolan, whose three sisters have all battled cancer, is taking a proactive approach to maintain her own health.
In April 2021, Nolan had announced that after being told she had a high chance of developing cancer and diabetes due to her family history, she was adopting a vegan diet as a preventative step. She has also publicly discussed how she considered undergoing a preventative double mastectomy.
“The main reason for doing it is my sisters’ cancer diagnosis and family members have diabetes. Here’s the thing – some of it I don’t like. I love my dairy and chocolate, but I’ve really got used to it and trained my taste buds,” she said. “I’m eating to live rather than living to eat.”
There are other benefits than just reducing her risk for diseases: the 57-year-old TV host said she now feels better than she has “in years.”
“Never weighed myself. The weight comes off. What I’m bothered about is I feel so much better. Yeah, best I’ve felt for years. I’ve changed my eating habits. I’ve lost weight. I’ve never felt better.”
Now, she’s using her social media presence to encourage fans to reduce their dairy intake.
“I’ve noticed in the shops, it’s all changing. Vegetarian and veganism getting bigger. Alternatives are amazing… and you know what, I’ve even got plant-based milk in my tea,” she said. “I started out doing it once a week, seeing how I liked it… so it’s totally up to you. There’s loads out there to choose from and whatever you decide to do is fine.”
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How Diet Can Help Prevent Cancer
Nolan’s new diet has a basis in science as studies have shown that overcooked red meat, processed foods like bacon, as well as fatty meats are linked to an increased cancer risk.
However, removing these suspected triggers does not always stop cancer from developing — and indulging in them does not necessarily mean a person will get cancer. There is a bit more to understanding cancer risk than that.
We are exposed to carcinogens, or substances that can cause cancer, throughout our daily lives. But many people will not go on to develop the disease, says Dr. Robert Wright, chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai.
“We create carcinogens all the time in our foods when we cook them, and very few of us get cancer because our bodies can handle them,” Dr. Wright explained. “But some people have susceptibilities to these environmental carcinogens, which might be genetic or might be caused by combinations of carcinogens.”
It is important to understand that no one trigger is going to definitively cause cancer, Dr. Wright said, but it could be a combination of triggers in the environment.
“Cancer isn’t caused by one event, typically, it’s usually a series or combination of events,” he added. “So, it may be that you ate a lot of charred food, it may be that you’re also a smoker, it may be that you’ve inherited a genetic susceptibility to be a little bit more sensitive to those chemicals.”
So, are there any foods that can actually decrease the chance of getting cancer? No matter what anyone tells you, as far as we know, there is no single food that doctors can point to, with absolute certainty, and say it decreases cancer risk. That does not mean that healthy eating habits are not important. A balanced diet is a priority both during and after cancer treatment.
When it comes to dietary advice that applies to everyone, Dr. Wright is pretty straightforward — eat more vegetables and stay active.
“What we haven’t figured out for cancer is, what is the combination of risk factors that end up leading to a particular person getting cancer,” Dr. Wright said during a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “The goal (in the future) is to identify those people who are more susceptible to cancer and to give them counseling and foods that they can eat and other habits like exercise that can reduce their risk. Right now, we’re not really good at predicting that.”
While some cancers do develop from inherited genes, most do not, so researchers are working on ways to understand how lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and chemical exposures put people at risk. With that in mind, Dr. Wright stressed that eating well and staying active are still important — for all of us.
“In the end, prevention is actually kind of simple,” he said. “It’s what we always know. It’s exercise and eat well. That means eating more vegetables and less meats, particularly red meats.”
Some dietary basics to avoid a higher cancer risk include:
- If you can afford it, buy organic fruits and veggies
- When buying non-organic, make sure to thoroughly wash produce
- Avoid overcooking food
- Try to eat fewer red meats
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