Expert Health Articles

Nutrition for Cancer Prevention

When preventing a cancer diagnosis, there are many factors to consider, both in and out of our control. An individual’s risk of developing cancer depends on age, gender, genetics, environment, socioeconomic status and lifestyle behaviors. The good news is that we can control the lifestyle behaviors in which we choose to partake. According to The American Institute of Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society, lifestyle behaviors we can control include receiving adequate physical activity, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, staying safe in the sun, following cancer screening recommendations and consuming a nutritious diet. Maintaining these lifestyle behaviors may also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Consuming a nutritious diet is important for cancer prevention, but also achieving overall health. For example, a nutritious diet is vital for growth and cell repair, supporting the immune system, providing energy for daily activities and aiding in the function of our body’s organs. When looking at nutrition for cancer prevention, evidenced-based guidelines must be referenced, not claims found on social media. The American Cancer Society and American Institute of Cancer Research provide evidence-based recommendations on what an overall diet should include for cancer prevention. Making plant-based foods a main component of the diet is recommended. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes such as beans. Plant foods are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that protect against cancer.

When choosing protein options, reduce the consumption of both processed and red types of meat. Examples of processed meats are hot dogs, sausages and deli meats. Red meats are considered beef, pork and lamb. It is recommended to consume red meat in moderate amounts at no more than 18 ounces per week and keeping the consumption of processed meats to a minimum. When selecting protein options, strive for lean meats such as chicken, turkey, fish and seafood. Consider swapping meat for plant-based proteins, including beans, nuts and seeds. This swap helps include more cancer prevention components such as fiber and phytochemicals.

Another component of the diet to be considered is what liquids are consumed daily. It is recommended to limit sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda pop, sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and specialty coffee drinks to prevent excessive calories and sugar from being consumed. The American Cancer Society recommends individuals that drink alcohol, limit themselves to 1 serving for women, and 2 for men. Examples of a serving of alcohol are 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Be wary of claims touting that a single supplement or pill may prevent cancer. No one food or supplement can prevent cancer. Research shows that it is the arsenal of food that is consumed daily, that provides overall prevention and benefit. Following the recommendations provided by the American Cancer Society and the American Institute of Cancer Research will help ensure all nutrients vital for cancer prevention are consumed.

To learn more about how nutrition and lifestyle behaviors may prevent cancer, visit the American Cancer Society and the American Institute of Cancer Research online.

Rachel Niermann, RDN, Licensed Dietician

Armes Family Cancer Care Center