Medical checkups are commonly seen as an excellent method of self health care. With the pink ribbon splattered on everything from tools to bracelets to buckets of KFC, women get the impression that they're doing themselves a great favor when they undergo their yearly mammogram.
Unfortunately, mammograms do nothing to prevent breast cancer. They only serve to detect tumors that have gotten large enough to be seen by the human eye (over 100 billion cancer cells). If you receive a cancer diagnosis, the available treatments have not been shown to prolong life significantly, and they come with some serious side effects. Besides all that, the risk of breast cancer for women under fifty is about one in a thousand (i.e., pretty low). The mammogram brand of self health care should not be considered, "taking care of yourself".
So if medical checkups aren't the ticket to effective self health care, then what is? To answer that question, I took a look at the scientific research. I asked, what does work to prevent illness and promote longevity in humans? Several answers popped up over and over again. I must warn you that they're not very exciting, but here they are: eat right, exercise, don't smoke, and maintain a healthy low weight. That's right, and I'm sorry there's no new magic pill to report.
But wait a minute-what does it mean to "eat right"? Well, the medical literature is pretty conclusive on that, too. "Eating right" amounts to eating copious amounts of high-nutrient foods-primarily green vegetables, fruits, seeds, and beans. For instance, a recent study published in the Journal of Cancer (2008) reported a 64% reduction of breast cancer risk in women who at mushrooms daily.
You see, whole, unrefined plant foods are supremely high in phytonutrients--plant-derived chemicals--that protect us against disease and aging (unlike pink mammograms). Study after study shows that as our consumption of these foods goes up (especially dark leafy greens like kale and collards), our disease risk decreases significantly. But the key here is volume. If you take a nutrient-deficient diet--one based on bread, pasta, cereal, milk, chicken, olive oil--and add a cup of kale to it, you probably won't see many benefits. Ideally, to get the maximum protection from the thousands of phytochemicals abounding in unrefined plants, you have to eat lots of them-12-14 servings/day! Now that's excellent self health care!
Another benefit of this diet style is that it is highly weight-loss favorable. By eating 12-14 servings/day of fresh fruits and veggies, you fill up your belly with low-calorie, nutrient-rich food, so there's no room left for all the other empty-calorie stuff (the bread, oils, etc.). A diet style high in micronutrients--vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals--allows you to eat as much as you want while still losing weight, diminishing your disease risk factors even more. And it turns out to be much easier to prevent breast cancer (and other cancers and disease) than to cure it.
Now, I'm not saying it's easy to switch from the disease-causing standard American diet (SAD) to a high-nutrient diet. And the popular media doesn't help with its emphasis on sensational news stories instead of reporting valid scientific research, so you may not be convinced that a nutrient-rich diet style can actually prevent breast cancer or take the place of a medical checkup. Many of us have to overcome years of programming about the necessity of dairy for strong bones (not necessary or even beneficial for bones) and the benefits of olive oil (an overhyped, super-high-calorie, low-nutrient refined "food") before we start to believe in the tremendous value of leafy greens (think, "elephants"-where do they get their protein?). Well, I hope this article has piqued your interest. Now go take a brisk walk around the block and have an XXL salad for supper!