Can Foods Help Prevent Cancer?

By UHN Staff, Environmental Nutrition | February 23rd, 2024

Seven suggestions to minimize your risks

Can Foods Help Prevent Cancer? This healthy salad, with vegetables, fish, and nuts, can help. Image by B0p0h0ba

Most people are aware of dietary guidelines to combat cardiovascular health and diabetes, but can the right foods help prevent cancer, too? Environmental Nutrition presents seven suggestions to help lower your cancer risks.

According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of cancer in the United States is one in three. But, many people may not realize that more than half of all cancer deaths may be preventable by making healthier food choices, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping physically active.

Can foods help prevent cancer? Yes!

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Load up on plant-based foods.

No single food or food group can protect fully against cancer. But, plant-based foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that may help lower the risk for many types of cancer. Their dietary fiber content also contributes to the healthy bacteria in our gut and helps keep us feeling fuller for longer. This can help us maintain a healthier body weight. Research suggests that it is the synergy of these dietary components working together that offers the greatest protection against cancer. So, fill your plate two-thirds full with a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and legumes.

2. 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).

3. Snack on small portions of nuts and seeds.

Nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted or low salt) contain numerous bioactive components that are both cancer-protective and cardio-protective. They also make a great snack compared with the empty calories found in traditional snack foods like ice cream, potato chips, pretzels, cookies, and candy.

4. Limit your intake of salty foods and foods processed with salt.

In addition to 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 entrées. Choose whole, unprocessed foods, fresh, frozen, or low sodium canned vegetables, and cook more often with herbs and no-salt spice blends.

5. Choose water over wine.

Many people assume that alcohol is good for us because it has some heart health benefits. But, worldwide studies have shown that regular consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. If consumed at all, limit daily intake to up to one drink for women and up to two drinks for men.

6. Use a food first approach over dietary supplements.

Although it can be appealing to take dietary supplements with the hope that they will help prevent cancer, research has been inconclusive regarding their efficacy. In addition, dietary supplements are not consistently regulated and some 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 to help prevent cancer. If you are still interested in taking supplements, you may want to discuss your concerns with a Registered Dietitian who can help evaluate your individual health needs.

7. Aim for a healthy weight.

Having a body mass index of 30 or higher has been implicated in at least 13 different types of cancer. Use the 80/20 rule to help maintain a healthy weight and to help prevent cancer. So, 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, the remaining 20% of the time, allow yourself room to enjoy other types of foods, such as desserts and goodies for special occasions and celebrations.

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

©2024 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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