Today, February 4th, the world commemorates World Cancer Day, with the World Health Organisation declaring that in 2015 the number of cancer patients worldwide is expected to reach 84 million people.
In Egypt, breast cancer accounts for up to 38% of all cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. It has the lion's share of media attention, but it is only one of the kinds that affect Egyptians.
Cervical, liver, lung, prostate, throat, and other kinds of cancers are still on the rise, with smoking as a leading cause. "Smoking ups your risk of head and neck cancer by 15%, and a whopping 75% of all cases are caused directly by smoking in this particular area," says Dr Mahmoud Bassiouni , chairman of Egyptian Society of Head and Neck Oncology.
The leading cause for liver cancer is the deterioration of the organ due to Hepatitis C infection. The World Health Organisation states that Egypt comes first worldwide in hepatitis C prevalence, with more than 20% suffering from the disease in certain cities. This is the case especially in the Delta region, with a shocking yearly number of infections exceeding 165,000, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health.
If everything around us causes cancer, the only thing that people are encouraged to do now is endorse a healthier lifestyle that would boost their immunity and fight carcinogens attacking the body. Diet is the first thing that should come to mind.
"Surprisingly, many typical Egyptian foods and treats contain the ingredients that fight cancer the most, the problem is how we eat those foods, which pretty much ruins much of their nutritional value," says Dr Fawzi El Shobaki, professor of Nutrition at the National Research Institute.
Ahram Online also consults Dr Abdel Hadi Mesbah, Professor of Immunology at Cairo University, and Dr Iman Allam, Consultant of Oncology to shed light on the types of food that are highly consumed by Egyptians and which are known to fight cancer:
Nuts are a staple in many Egyptian foods, especially in celebrated religious seasons like the Mouled (birthday of prophet Mohamed) and during the holy month of Ramadan. They are packed with ingredients that help prevent cancer like campferol and quercetin.
Unfortunately, sometimes they are served in the form of solid chunks of sweets, in part of a process in which loads of sugar is added, draining them of vital oils.
It is always recommended to eat nuts untoasted for maximum benefit.
Egyptians are known for their abundant use of garlic in cooking processes for typical Egyptian meals like koshari and melokheia. This ingredient is known to contain allium compounds that enhance immunity and fight cancer through keeping at bay carcinogens from penetrating cells.
While garlic has anti-bacterial effects that assist in preventing stomach cancer, it also contains diallyl sulfide which stops action on carcinogens inside the liver.
It must be noted that the effect of garlic is optimised when it is consumed raw, not cooked.
According to the Egyptian Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics, Egyptians were in 2012 ranked as the highest consumers of tea in the Arab world, followed by Saudi Arabia.
While the typical Egyptian consumes excessively harmful amounts of sugar in their glasses of tea, the beverage in general is considered very rich in the antioxidant polyphenols, which are responsible for preventing cancer cells from dividing, especially in the lung, rectum, stomach, and pancreas.
It must be noted that although regular tea is beneficial, it is always better to opt for green tea, which is richer in this type of antioxidant, along with olive oil.
Sweet potatoes and carrots
Throughout the streets of Cairo, piles of carrots and sweet potatoes are a common site on cart-vendors.
In carrots, two ingredients have been known to reduce cancer: beta carotene, and falcarenol. However, it is recommended that carrots are eaten uncooked as well.
As for sweet potatoes, which Egyptians find a delicacy especially in winter, they are also a rich source of beta carotene.
Cabbage and broccoli
Egyptians just love cabbage wraps (mahshi). It’s a delicacy on many table feasts, being tasty and economical. Along with cauliflower and broccoli, these plants are a very rich source of indole 3 carbinole, which fights breast cancer.
Broccoli in particular contains sulforaphane, which combats some kinds of cancers that occur in the rectum or colon. The more bitter the broccoli sprouts, the higher the content of this ingredient.
A highly consumed crop by Egyptians, tomatoes contain two main elements that act as antioxidants that fight free radicals inside the body: vitamin C and lycopene.
It is also recommended to couple the consumption of tomatoes with a portion of oil, which increases the absorption of lycopene.
Grapes, oranges and figs
In summer, grapes and figs are all over the country, and so are oranges in winter.
Grapes are actually packed with cancer-fighting ingredients: ellagic acid; which blocks enzymes essential for the growth of cancer cells, resveratrol; which also slows down the cancer-growing enzymes, and bioflavonoid; which is present in red grapes and act as powerful antioxidants against cancer.
Oranges are a main source of limonene, which boosts the immunity cells responsible for fighting cancer.
As for figs, they swarm in a benzaldehyde derivative which can help shrink tumors, and they help kill bacteria.