Nutrition for Cancer Prevention
According to the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, between 30 and 50% of all cancers are preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding occupational carcinogens and environmental pollution, and treating some types of long-term infections.
By incorporating these 8 recommendations into your daily routine, you are taking important steps toward preventing cancer and enjoying a healthy life:
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity is associated with inflammatory mediators and metabolic, endocrine, and hormone abnormalities that promote cell growth and prevent cancer cells from self-destructing. Obesity is known to be one of the more important causes of almost every type of cancer, and the risk associated with too much body fat and cancer continues to grow with more research. The good news is that by following all the recommendations to prevent cancer, you are also setting yourself up to lose weight.
Our tips:Aim for gradual, sustainable weight loss by making practical and realistic changes to food choices and eating habits instead of a strict diet that is difficult to maintain.Set a goal to lose 5% of your body weight to start experiencing significant health benefits.
Increase the amount of vegetables and fruit you eat. Vegetables and fruit are high in phytochemicals that have strong anti-cancer effects and are also excellent sources of nutrients that inhibit cancer, including: vitamin C, vitamin E, folate and selenium. The greatest risk of cancer is seen in people who rarely eat vegetables or fruit, while people who include at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit each day have the lowest risk of cancer.
Our tips:Fill half your plate at all meals with non-starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, and peas) contain fiber and nutrients, but non- starchy vegetables are even more important sources of cancer-fighting nutrients and contain fewer calories.Choose different colors of fruit and vegetables for a higher variety of cancer-preventing phytochemicals: red tomatoes or cherries, orange carrots or peppers, green grapes or broccoli, blue or purple eggplant or blueberries.Choose whole, less-processed vegetables and fruit to avoid added sugars and sodium. For example, enjoy a fresh apple instead of apple juice or applesauce or try steamed fresh or frozen broccoli instead of fried potatoes.
Enjoy whole grains instead of processed grains. The fiber in whole grains helps protect against colorectal cancers and also helps with weight loss. Refined grains found in white bread, pasta, biscuits, crackers, cakes, and pastries are lower in the fiber and nutrients that help protect against cancer.
Our tips:Choose whole grains such as brown rice and whole grain breads, pasta, cereals, and crackers as often as possible. Read food labels and choose grain products that list the word ‘whole’ in the first ingredient. For example, ‘whole oats’ or ‘whole wheat’ as the first ingredient means that the food contains primarily whole grains.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and to truly decrease risk of cancer, avoid alcohol completely. Alcohol is a toxin that increases the production of metabolites that promote cancer. The more alcohol consumed, especially over a lifetime, the higher the risk of developing cancer.
Our tips:Enjoy sparkling water with lemon or lime instead of alcoholic beverages.Try a virgin cocktail or non-alcoholic beer for a special beverage.If you drink alcohol, follow the national guidelines that recommend no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as:12 ounces beer5 ounces wine1.5 ounces or one ‘shot’ of liquor.
Limit red meat from beef, pork, veal and lamb to no more than 12-18 ounces total per week and avoid processed meat completely. Processed meat is cured, salted, smoked, or fermented to enhance flavor and improve preservation. Examples include ham, salami, lunch meats, bacon, hotdogs and sausage.
Our tips:Red meat is a good source of iron and zinc, but these nutrients are also found in other foods such as tofu, soybeans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans.Replace red meat with chicken or fish. It’s even healthier to replace animal proteins with plant proteins such as legumes and soy.
Include more plant-based protein foods in your daily food choices. Plant proteins from legumes (dried beans and peas such as lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans and kidney beans), seeds, and nuts contain little to no saturated fat. Plus, they're high in fiber and help promote a healthy weight.
Our tips:Try meatless meals a few times each week. For example, use nut butter instead of lunchmeat on a sandwich, add legumes to pasta instead of meat, make tacos with pinto or black beans instead of meat, or enjoy a veggie burger instead of a hamburger.
Limit sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, juice drinks, sweetened iced tea and lemonade. Sweetened beverages contribute to obesity, which is a major cause of cancer.
Our tips:Make plain water your primary beverage. Flavor water with slices of fruit or vegetables for enhanced taste without sugar.Enjoy herbal teas without added sugar.Choose 100% fruit or vegetable juices that contain no added sugar.
Make physical activity part of your daily life. Being physically active reduces circulating estrogen levels, inflammation, and insulin resistance which are known to increase risk of cancer and also play a role in obesity. By increasing daily physical activity, you’ll decrease the amount of sitting time, and both of these are key strategies to improve health.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective. The Third Expert Report. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer Accessed 6-22-19.National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Alcohol and Cancer Risk. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet reviewed 9-13-18, accessed 6-23-19American Institute for Cancer Research. Vegetarian and Vegan Diets. https://www.aicr.org/patients-survivors/healthy-or-harmful/vegetarian-and-vegan.html accessed 6-23-19