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Cancer and the food you eat

Pacific Prime China continues our look into cancer in China by looking at food and pesticides, and the effects this can have on your health and insurance.

Posted on Jul 20, 2015 by Rob McBroom

These days, it really feels like nearly everything can give us cancer, especially our food. Talk to 10 different people and you will likely get 10 different stories about how certain food, or food related items cause cancer. While many of these are largely exaggerated, there have been a number of influential studies conducted by organizations such as Cancer Research UK that do highlight one fact: The food we eat can impact our risk of getting cancer. Beyond that, reports are showing that the number of cancer cases in China are rising, which has many people in China worried.

Is this preventable?

While cancer rates are increasing, many experts on cancer in China, including the WHO, agree that some cancer cases are preventable. In fact, according to the WHO, "At least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer."

While there are many things you can do to prevent cancer, special care is needed when it comes to food and things related to food like pesticides and even water.  

What can I do when it comes to food?

There are a myriad of things you can do to reduce your risk for cancer, one of the easiest is to have follow a healthy diet. To help, we reached out to our partners at Kate & Kimi for some advice. Elizabeth Schieffelin, a Holistic Health Coach and the Marketing Director for Kate & Kimi had this to say:  "Food can be our biggest asset or worst enemy when it comes to health. At Kate & Kimi, our philosophy is that good, clean fresh food can be a form of preventative medicine that can help to your body better heal itself. For example, the practice of clean eating alone can help protect your body from cancer and a host of other diseases.

That said, many of our clients often ask 'What constitutes a “clean food”?' We define it as something that is minimally processed and comes from close to the source. If you practice clean eating, you are essentially following a whole foods, plant based diet with few packaged or processed items in your kitchen. The best kind of foods, like broccoli or kale, don’t require ingredient lists, they speak for themselves,”

Schieffelin continued, "Within the whole foods sphere, certain fruits vegetables, spices and herbs can be particularly potent anti-cancer tools. In particular, load up on antioxidant rich foods, such as fresh berries, grapes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and raw nuts. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, and kale are also amazing disease fighters. On the more savory side, the allium family (onions, shallots, garlic) have been studied as cancer crusaders as well as immunity boosters.

However, in China the question goes beyond simply what you eat to how it was grown, washed and prepared. Due to the rampant overuse of pesticides, polluted ground water and air and the heavy metal content in soil, even the most innocent vegetables may be dangerous.  in fact, since 1940, more than 77,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment – our bodies don’t even know how to handle these new types of toxins.”

What about substances related to the production of food, like pesticides?

Putting food aside, there are also things you should know about the products used to grow foods, such as pesticides. An article published by the China Post earlier this year read that, "The U.N.'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)...[found] that three pesticides, including the popular weed-killer Roundup, were "probably" carcinogenic and two others, which have already been outlawed or restricted, were "possibly" so."

Roundup contains the chemical glyphosate which is now the world's most common pesticide used by farmers all over the world including in China. To be clear: there is no definitive evidence that links cancer to pesticides like glyphosate which means that they could cause cancer, but it is not fully known whether they actually do or not.

While there are international standards set that define the level of pesticide that should be allowed and how to safely use it during food production, China does not have the best track-record of following these regulations which could, in theory, lead to the chemicals being used unsafely thereby affecting the health of people who consume or use these chemicals.  

Richie Gelber, a grower and owner of Gusto Fine Foods, explained how any expat in China can protect themselves from these harmful pesticides, "The simplest way to protect yourself and your family is by asking questions and building relationships with food growers and producers of integrity. Don’t trust labels. Something may state that it is “certified organic”, for example, but the reality may be vastly different. “If you cannot locate the source for a fresh vegetable or protein, avoid it. There have been too many food safety scandals because of ignorance or greed on the part of suppliers and we can’t afford that kind of risk, especially when it comes to feeding families.”

Schieffelin echoed this by adding, “At Kate & Kimi, we take great care in sourcing our produce. Our primary vegetable partner is Gusto Fine Foods, a Canadian owned company which has been the premiere supplier of vegetables to chefs at 5 star hotels for the past decade. We also work with two certified organic farms that have passed our internal test for international organic standards. We are constantly visiting our farmers to check in.”

She continued, "Regardless of your source, all fresh produce should always be washed properly. Water alone will not remove chemicals. Instead, mix a bowl of filtered water with a cup or two of vinegar or pick up an eco-friendly vegetable wash. Soak veggies in the solution for 10 minutes and then rinse.

If you have any questions or have not yet found your supplier-of-choice, don’t fear but take preventative measures by following the guidelines laid out by the Environmental Working Group. This organization annually publishes a list of the most- and least-likely to be contaminated produce, famously named “The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen”.

What about cancer and your health insurance

Finally, there is one run-on effect of this increase in cancer in China, and that is how it will impact your health insurance. Generally speaking, if a population faces a heightened risk of cancer, health insurance claims will inevitably go up. When this happens, the companies offering plans face higher risk and will mitigate this by increasing premiums. The same can be said for people who have already had cancer - your insurance premiums will generally be higher if the insurance company decides to cover you.

Therefore, striving to have a healthy lifestyle and even diet which can help reduce your chances of developing cancer means that you stand a better chance of being offered plans with lower premiums, or at least accept to plans.

Unfortunately, people who have had cancer or recently recovered from it will find it harder to secure coverage with some plans. That's where a health insurance expert, like the staff at Pacific Prime China can help. We have access to a wide variety of plans and can help you find one that provides the coverage you need. Contact us today to learn more.

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