According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of cancer in the United States is 1 in 3. But many people may not realize that more than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthier food choices, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping active.
What can you do to help prevent cancer?
Load up on plant-based foods
No one food or food group can protect against cancer. But plant-based foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that help lower the risk for many cancers. Their fiber content also contributes to the healthy bacteria in our intestines and keeps us feeling full longer. This can help us maintain a lower body weight. Research suggests it is the synergy of all these dietary components working together that offers the best protection against cancer. So when serving up your meals, fill your plate two-thirds full with a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes.
Choose fish or poultry most often
The World Health Organization reviewed more than 800 studies and found that eating processed meat or red meat every day increased the risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. So limit your intake of red meats (beef, lamb, pork and goat) and avoid frequent consumption of processed meats (bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and deli meats).
Snack on small handfuls of nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted or low salt) contain numerous bioactive components that are both cancer- and cardio-protective. They make a great snack compared to the empty calories found in traditional snack foods like ice cream, potato chips, pretzels, cookies and candy.
Limit your intake of salty foods and foods processed with salt
Besides contributing to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke, diets high in salt have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer. Work on limiting your intake of the Salty Six: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry injected with saline solutions (check the label), canned and restaurant soups and chili, and restaurant entrees. Choose more whole unprocessed foods; fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables; and cook more often with herbs and no-salt spice blends.
Choose water over wine
Many people assume that alcohol is good for us because it has heart health benefits. But worldwide studies have shown that regular consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of mouth and throat cancers, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. If consumed at all, limit daily intake of alcoholic drinks to one for women and two for men.
Use a food first approach over dietary supplements
Although it can be appealing to take dietary supplements with the hope that they will prevent cancers, research has been inconclusive about their efficacy. In addition, dietary supplements are not regulated and many have been found to contain harmful ingredients or little to none of the purported nutrients. Putting your financial resources toward high-quality whole foods is a more sensible approach for cancer prevention. If you are still interested in taking supplements you may want to discuss your concerns with a registered dietitian who can help evaluate your particular health needs.
Aim for a healthy weight
Having a body mass index of 30 or higher has been implicated in at least 13 types of cancer. Use the 80/20 rule to help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent cancer: 80% of the time choose a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, fish, non-fat or low-fat dairy and plant-based oils. Then 20% of the time, enjoy desserts and goodies for special occasions and celebrations.