Eating well can lower your chance of developing cancer. In fact, nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention are similar to those for preventing other diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Here are some general guidelines to help reduce your cancer risk with diet:
Keep a Healthy Weight
Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight. Being overweight or obese is related to as many as one in five cancer-related deaths. (See Your Health and Your Weight). Exactly how weight affects cancer risk is unclear. Weight is most closely connected with cancers of the breast and uterus in postmenopausal women. Other cancers associated with obesity include:
- Colon and rectum
- Breast (after menopause)
Limit Calorie-Dense, Nutrient-Deficient Foods
Reduce your intake of foods with added sugars and fats that provide a lot of calories but few nutrients. Calories add up fast with calorie-dense foods, which can lead to weight gain and leaves little room for more healthful, cancer-preventive foods.
Eat Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains and Legumes
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, including beans, is linked with a lower risk of lung, oral, esophageal, stomach and colon cancer. At this point, it’s not clear which components in vegetables and fruits are most protective against cancer. So enjoy a variety of whole foods naturally-rich in nutrients. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables and at least half your grains whole grains. Beans and peas may be counted as part of the Protein Foods Group or as a vegetable.
Also, eating a diet rich in these plant-based foods can help you stay at a healthy weight.
Moderate Your Meat Portions
No consistent evidence links protein intake to increased or lowered risk of most cancers. Some studies suggest a link between colon cancer and eating large amounts of red meat, especially processed meat such as ham, bacon and hot dogs, but this research is inconclusive. Your best bet is to enjoy protein in moderation. Consider filling your plate with beans, grains and vegetables.
Evidence suggests all types of alcoholic drinks may increase your risk of a number of cancers, including cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast and colon. It’s unclear exactly how alcohol affects cancer risk. It is considered more harmful when combined with smoking. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men.
Consume Less Salt (Sodium)
In cultures where people eat a lot of salt-preserved foods, salt-cured and salt-pickled food, the risk for stomach, nasopharyngeal and throat cancers may be higher. Although no evidence suggests that the amounts of salt used in cooking or flavoring foods affect cancer risk, it is known to raise the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, which is why reducing sodium intake is recommended.
Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, rather than salt we add as a seasoning. Read food labels to learn exactly how much sodium is a product. Everyone, including kids, should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). Adults age 51 and older, African Americans of any age, and individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should further reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day.
What about Supplements?
Whole foods are your best bet for reducing your risk of cancer, not supplements. Research suggests the synergy between nutrients found naturally in foods offers a protective effect. The best sources of nutrients for cancer prevention are nutrient-rich whole foods and healthful beverages.
Reviewed December 2012