QUESTION: Does the alkaline diet prevent cancer?

The alkaline diet is based on the unsubstantiated claim that cancer cells cannot thrive or grow in an alkaline environment (high pH) but favor more acidic conditions (low pH). Its claim to fame is that if you eat alkaline foods and avoid acidic foods (like grains, meats, dairy, eggs and processed foods), you can change the pH of your body which will in turn prevent cancer cells from multiplying or spreading.

According the American Institute of Cancer Research, the basis of this is not untrue -- cancer cells thrive in more acidic environments. However, this evidence was found only in isolated laboratory settings. It would be impossible to create a less-acidic, less-cancer friendly environment in the human body, regardless of dietary intake.

Our bodies have several mechanisms that ensure our pH does not vary from a very specific level. Kidney and respiratory functions tightly regulate blood pH so it remains within the desired range of 7.35 to 7.45. Even minimal changes to our blood pH can result in life-threatening emergencies. In short, the food we consume does not affect the pH of our blood.

While what you eat matters significantly in regards to cancer risk, it is not acidity or alkalinity that is of utmost importance. Rather, focusing on a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough exercise have been proven to be the best prevention when it comes to cancer.

A healthy, balanced diet can help prevent cancer from occurring and even help you feel well throughout treatment. Here are a few tips.

Whole grains. Try new grains like couscous, quinoa, barley. Or try the whole grain version of foods you already love -- 100-percent whole wheat: bread, bagels, tortillas, pasta or crackers. Choose breads that say “100% whole wheat” on the front label as they will have whole wheat flour as the first ingredient.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Choose fruits and vegetables more often. Include whole fruits in your diet and avoid fruit juices. Try seasonal vegetables and new recipes to get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Choose lean meats or plant-proteins most often. Limit consumption of red and processed meats (like bacon, sausage, luncheon meats) and choose fish, beans, peas, unsalted nuts and seeds most often. Go meat-less at least once a week to incorporate more of these fiber-filled plant proteins.

Avoid added sodium (salt), saturated fat and sugar in your diet. These three can be added to foods to improve their flavor, increase their shelf-life and keep you coming back for more. However, they can also be associated with excess weight, which in turn has been shown to increase risk of many types of cancer.

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  • Choose “no salt added” canned beans and vegetables.
  • Opt for low-fat or nonfat dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Pick canned fruits packed in 100 percent juice rather than heavy syrup. Treat cookies, cakes and candies as treats and only have in moderation.

Enjoy alcohol in moderation if at all. One drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men. Ask your doctor before consuming alcohol while undergoing cancer treatment.

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Join us Sept. 12 at 10 a.m. in Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room for our Fighting Cancer with Your Fork class, where we will be presenting “Understanding Carbohydrates.”

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Have a question for "Your Cancer Answers," a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

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As a clinical registered dietitian with Marian Regional Medical Center, Shannon Burman works with cancer patients at the Mission Hope Cancer Center to provide nutritional counseling, information and recommendations. She can be reached at 219-4673.