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Food for thought: Your diet and cancer

Food and cancer
Food and cancer 04:26

What, if anything, can we do in our own personal lives to possibly hold cancer at bay? Martha Teichner has some food for thought: 

Chef Eric Levine's "Eureka!" moment about healthy food came with his fifth cancer. Yes, he's beaten cancer five times.

That moment came on the best and worst day of his life. Hours after chemotherapy and radiation, barely able even to stand up, he competed on the Food Network show, "Chopped."

"In the middle of it I had that, like, moment of clarity where I thought, 'You know what? I could win this competition, and I could beat cancer,'" he told Teichner.

He did win. But his doctor told him, change the way you eat -- or die. So far he's lost 65 pounds.

"So the relationship of food to health and wellness, it's massive. I didn't get it," he said.

Now he wants everybody to get it. He sneaks healthy dishes like a stuffed acorn squash onto the menu at his N.J. restaurant.

"When things are jammed down your throat, people resist," Levine said.

What you eat has tremendous bearing upon preventing or treating cancer and other diseases. CBS News

What cancer patients eat matters. Mary-Eve Brown, an oncology dietician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Teichner, "It's been reported that two out of three people, when they show up for that very first oncology appointment for treatment, are already suffering nutritionally -- they're undernourished or malnourished."

One patient, Jack Appelfeld, had about a quarter of a cup of chicken noodle soup. It went, as he put it, "terrible." Because he was so undernourished, Appelfeld's chemotherapy session had to be cancelled. 

"Any time that we hold treatment, that has impact on survival," said Brown. "That's how powerful nutrition is during your cancer treatment. 

So, is there evidence that food can actually cause cancer?

"There's a relationship between high-fat meats and certain types of gut cancers," said Brown. "There's even a bigger body of evidence about obesity and cancer, female cancers, pancreas cancer."

Dr. Margaret Cuomo has produced a documentary and a companion book, both called "A World Without Cancer." 

Teichner took a spin around Dr. Cuomo's local supermarket on Long Island. Her advice: Eat the rainbow. "We want to eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits," Dr. Cuomo said. "The anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities of the vegetables and fruits we're seeing here today are those elements that are going to help us reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes and other diseases."

Dr. Margaret Cuomo (with correspondent Martha Teichner).  CBS News

So says Cuomo, but there is some debate about the role of specific foods in cancer prevention, even organics. Still, she's a believer and says consider organic. But if you gasp at the price, "buy as much as you can afford. It's important that you eat the vegetable, so if you cannot get them organic, you're gonna eat the vegetables regardless."

And here's something you may not have thought about: "We want to keep to the periphery of a supermarket," she said.


Why? "Because the healthier foods are going to be located there."

She says fill your cart with fruits and veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, oranges, broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage.

And try green tea. "Green tea is known to have catechins, and that has a powerful anti-cancer effect," she said.

And what does all that look like on your dinner plate?

"You want two-thirds of that plate to be consisting of vegetables, whole grains and fruits, with one-third of it protein," Dr. Cuomo said. "That protein can be a bean -- black beans, chick peas, lentils. It can be a lean protein, like fish or poultry."

Teichner asked, "And what do you say to people who say, 'I hate all that stuff'?"

"Learn to like it," Dr. Cuomo laughed. "It's good for you!"

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