As a nation, not only do we eat too much fat, we continue to pile the same amount of fats and oils onto our plates as we did ten years ago. Despite public health warnings that excessive intake of fats and oils are linked to chronic diseases, we still eat those fat-laden foods, don’t we?
Eating less fat is a great start toward a healthy diet, but don’t stop there. The type of fat you eat can affect cancer growth. For example, some dietary fats feed into metabolic pathways that depress natural killer (NK) cells and promote inflammation. Other dietary fats are used by the body in positive ways, such as promoting cardiovascular health, functioning as anti-metastatic agents, and suppressing tumor growth. The take away is: some fats fuel, and some fats fight, cancer.
A diet high in fat coming from animal products is linked to colorectal, breast, prostate, bladder, endometrial and lung cancers. Cholesterol, another component of animal food, has been linked to pancreatic and endometrial cancer.
Diets high in omega-6 fatty acids (from processed foods) have been shown to stimulate human prostate cancer cells and have led to an increased incidence of breast cancer. Conversely, these oils when consumed in the raw, unprocessed form, are protective in patients with Salivary gland tumors.
It’s easy to get bogged down in technical terms, especially when it comes to trying to remember which type of fat comes from which type of food. It helps to remember that foods usually contain a mixture of various fatty acids and they are classified by their most prevalent fatty acid.
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MCT are saturated fats that act differently in the body. They are easily absorbed and used for energy. Dairy products like whole milk, butter and cheese contain MCTs but also saturated fat, so I don’t recommend those animal sources. Coconut oil contains the most MCTs and of course you can purchase straight MCT oil. Emerging research on MCT and coconut oil shows pretty impressive cancer fighting properties when taken as part of a ketogenic diet. Unrefined coconut oil consumed during chemotherapy helped improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients by reducing chemotherapy-related symptoms. (Lipids Health Dis, Aug 2014)
Quick pick: Nutiva organic coconut oil
Superunsaturated fats are super healthy and high in omega 3s. These fats are found primarily in cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, bluefish, herring), flaxseed and algae. Superunsaturated fats stop cancer from spreading by enhancing natural killer (NK) cell and lymphocyte cancer kill rates. In animal studies, flax has produced fewer or smaller tumors, less metastasis, and has protected against breast and prostate cancer. (Sci Rep, Jan 2018)
Quick pick: Omega Blend
Monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory benefits and are found in avocado, peanut, olive, and canola oils. Olive oil contains a mild vegetable fiber that protects the digestive tract and contains phenolic compounds that act as cell protectors. It’s also been shown in animals to prevent colon cancer cell growth.
Polyunsaturated fats can be more inflammatory in nature and play a role in cancer risk and progression, so be sure to consume in lower quantities and remember that PUFAs are not a problem in the whole food form. I do have a warning: Cottonseed oil, rich in omega-6 fatty acids, has been found to contain toxic natural ingredients as well as pesticide residues. Food Sources of PUFAs include sunflower, corn, safflower, cottonseed, sesame, soybean, borage, and evening primrose oils.
Hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and trans-fatty acid sources like margarine, shortening, refined vegetable oils; and smaller amounts of trans-fatty acids naturally occur in beef and butter. These types of fat are not associated with healthful properties and there is NO safe level of consumption.
Saturated fat sources are red meat, pork, poultry, whole milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and palm oils. Again, not great choices for cancer control.