Youâve probably seen headlines like "Your BagelÂ Will GiveÂ You Cancer" and "Carbs Are the New Cigarettes" all over the web recently.
The uproar was sparked by a recent study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention thatÂ linked lung cancerÂ to a diet high on theÂ glycemic index.Â (GIÂ isÂ a measure of how quickly carbohydrates trigger a rise in blood sugar levels.) ResearchersÂ from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that among people who had never smoked, those with the highest daily GI had a 49% increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to those with the lowest daily GI.
Thatâs a pretty powerful link, and it's scary to think you can get lung cancer if you've never smoked. But itâs important to put the findingsÂ into perspective.
The reality is that no, eating one bagel isnât as bad for you as smoking a cigarette.Â However, havingÂ one for breakfast several days a week is not a great idea for a number of nutritional reasons. To protect your health, your overall, consistent eating pattern matters most, not just for lung cancer, but also for other chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So put your focus on creating healthy dietaryÂ habits you can stick with over time. HereÂ are four that canÂ help you lower the risk of food-centric health problems, lung cancer andÂ otherwise.
Don't go byÂ GI alone
Not all high GI foods are bad, and not all low GI foods are healthy. For example, watermelon has a high GI of 72 (on a 0 to 100 scale), while ice cream can have a GI as low as 38. What you should really focusÂ on is reducingÂ your intake of refined, processed carbsÂ that have been stripped of their fiber and other nutrients, regardless of the exact GI numbers. Iâm talking aboutÂ white rice andÂ noodles, baked goods, candy, Â sugary drinks,Â white bread,Â rolls, and yes, bagels.
IfÂ you struggle withÂ giving theseÂ foods up completely, make them occasional treatsÂ instead ofÂ daily staples. And when you do eatÂ them, choose canât-live-without indulgences that truly feel worthwhile. In other words, splurge on a cupcake from your favorite bakery once a month, not a meh slice of grocery store cake in the office break room.
Know yourÂ nutrient-rich carbs
You don't haveÂ to go carb-free to lower your cancer risk. There are plenty of unprocessed or minimally processed options that will leave you feeling energized and nourished. My go-tos are pulses (beans, lentils, and peas), starchy veggiesÂ (spaghetti squash, yams, and roots), and whole grainsÂ (quinoa, brown rice, oats, and popcorn).Â While I advise my clients to eat these whole foods more often, there are packaged options formulated with healthier ingredients, such as Food for Life tortillas, Van's CrackersÂ ($3;Â amazon.com)Â and Tolerant lentil pastaÂ ($12;Â amazon.com).Â Just keep in mind that even with healthier options, portion size still matters.
RELATED: 10 Fat-Burning Carbs
Donât forget about good fats
PreviousÂ research has suggested that a high intake of saturated fats, red meat, and dairy products may up the risk of lung cancer. Here are a few ways to cut back on these foods by swapping themÂ for healthierÂ alternatives:Â Instead of cheese and sour cream on a taco salad, go for creamy guacamole.Â Make a cheeseless pizza on cauliflower crust, loaded with veggies, and topped with satisfying olive tapenade or a dairy-free pesto.Â Try ice creams made from plant milks, like almond or coconut. And trade burger patties for versions made with salmon or black beans.
Make produce the star of yourÂ meals
OtherÂ research has suggested that diets high in vegetables and fruit help lowerÂ lung cancer risk. The best way toÂ cut back on carbs, boostÂ your intake of nutrients and fiber, and slash calories is to swap the ratio ofÂ veggies toÂ starches in your meals. For example, instead of having a pile of pasta covered with sauce, sautÃ© two cups (the size of two tennis balls) of veggies in EVOO with garlic and Italian herb seasoning; toss the sautÃ©ed veggies with a lean protein (such as three ounces of chicken breast, extra lean ground turkey, salmon, or white beans), and a half cup (half of a tennis ball) of a healthier pasta. In other words, letÂ carbs be the accent, rather than the main event.
Meet Cynthia Sass at theÂ HealthÂ Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon RanchÂ AprilÂ 22-24. For details, go toÂ Health.com/TotalWellness.
Do you have a question about nutrition? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioningÂ @goodhealthÂ andÂ @CynthiaSass.Â
Cynthia SassÂ is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen onÂ national TV, sheâs Healthâs contributing nutrition editor, and privately counselsÂ clientsÂ in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her onÂ Facebook,Â TwitterÂ andÂ Pinterest.