Lung-lasting care

Veggies may slice cancer risk in nonsmokers

When you ask for a table in the nonsmoking section, you might want to request a nonsmoker's menu, too. Because when it comes to lung cancer, what you eat may be as important as what you breathe.

The largest study of foods and lung cancer in nonsmokers to date suggests that fruits and vegetables should be a main course in the fight against the disease. Researchers studied the eating habits of 413 nonsmokers with lung cancer and 413 nonsmokers without and found that those who ate more than 21/2 servings of raw fruits and vegetables a day had a 60 percent lower risk of lung cancer than people who ate one serving or less of those foods each day (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, January 5, 1994).

"In terms of reducing your risk of lung cancer, our results would suggest that raw-fruit-and-vegetable consumption may be as important, if not more important, than avoiding passive smoking," says study leader Susan Taylor Mayne, Ph.D., director of the cancer prevention and control research program, Yale Cancer Center.

Add that to what you already know: Reducing fats may reduce your risk of lung cancer, and adding foods rich in beta-carotene may do something similar. (See "Keep Your Lungs in the Pink," March 1994.)

Researchers can't say exactly what it is about raw fruits and vegetables that could be protective. Separating out a few nutrients, researchers saw that beta-carotene, the vitamin in yellow- and orange-fleshed foods, was high in the diets of people who didn't get the cancer. Yet many compounds in fresh fruits and veggies are just beginning to be studied. So researchers aren't pinning their hopes on just one nutrient yet.

Whether you have to crunch your carrots raw, like people in the study did, or whether you can steam them is still up in the air. "The best thing you can do is get five or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Focusing on at least some of them being raw is probably not a bad idea," says Dr. Mayne.

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by Marty Munson with Teresa A. Yeykal and Therese Walsh

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