For Sharon Dellamonica, two of the most difficult foods to give up have been pasta and sourdough bread. But for the active 67-year-old, her health is what matters most right now.

During the past 12 years, Dellamonica has had two brushes with cancer: In 2000, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and in 2006, her doctor found abnormal cells that could eventually lead to cancer. She has since embarked on a diet that eliminates most processed and refined foods.

Dellamonica currently receives help from Dr. Cate Shanahan, of Queen of the Valley Medical Associates, on disease prevention and nutrition.

Medical research shows that environmental factors — such as food — influence the risk of cancer. Several other environmental factors that can affect risk include tobacco use, exposure to industrial chemicals, and pollution and body composition.

While not every risk can be avoided, Dellamonica said food is one environmental factor she can control.

“It’s so simple. Why wait to get sick to get fixed?” Dellamonica said. “Why be passive? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Laura Grinnell, a registered dietitian at St. Helena Hospital’s Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center, recommends that patients maintain a healthy body weight and eat a plant-based diet, which includes eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Grinnell recommends foods that are rich in phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants and may prevent cancer-causing cells from forming.

Different types of phytochemicals are found in a variety of foods, including cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts — and red and blue fruits, such as raspberries and blueberries. Grinnell also recommends foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, sardines, flaxseed and walnuts, for example.

Shanahan, who also is the author of “Deep Nutrition” and “Food Rules,” said it’s important to avoid processed and packaged foods, as well as the processed vegetable oils often found in salad dressings.

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“Food manufacturers are trying to get us hooked on their cheapest junk,” Shanahan said.

With Shanahan’s help, Dellamonica follows a diet rich in vegetables, protein and healthy fats. She eats small pieces of grass-fed beef, organic eggs, and a lot of vegetables and salads with her own olive-oil-and-lemon salad dressings.

“My taste has really changed,” Dellamonica said. “I’ve really gravitated toward eating things out of my garden.”

She admits it’s not cheap to eat so healthfully, but said it’s well worth the cost.

“I’m not a wealthy person,” Dellamonica said. “But I’d rather put my money into good, clean food rather than putting it toward unnecessary surgery and drugs.”

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