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  • Writer's pictureChristine Patorniti RD, CDCES, MBA

Four Diet Changes to Fight Cancer


Imagine having the power to reduce your risk of developing cancer in the future. In fact, you absolutely do have this power and this article is going to show you how you can use food to fight cancer.


While there is no single food or habit that will surely cause cancer, there is also no single food or habit that will surely prevent it. To reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer you can control many day-to-day lifestyle practices, including nutrition. There are several choices you can make to exert a big difference to your cancer risk.


According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, these are the top cancer prevention recommendations related to diet and nutrition:

  1. Enjoy a better diet

  2. Limit Convenience Foods

  3. Limit red and processed meat

  4. Cut down on sugary drinks


Cancer is no small health risk and the empowering truth is that you absolutely have the ability to influence your health and future with nutrition. The foods (and drinks) you consume contribute to your healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer. And the great news is that these strategies can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases at the same time.


By choosing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and choosing fewer fast foods, red and processed meats, and sugary drinks, you can exert a big impact on your health. You don’t need to overhaul everything right away because small, sustainable changes to your day-to-day life can lead the way to improved wellness.


Need help choosing or implementing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes into your diet? I’m here for you. As a Registered Dietitian, I’d love to help.


1. Fight Cancer by Enjoying a Better Diet

What exactly is a “better,” cancer-risk-reducing diet? It’s choosing more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes like beans and lentils. These foods are full of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Foods high in fiber can also help protect against excess weight gain because they help you to feel fuller longer.


Fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes also contain antioxidants and protein. These foods are known to help protect against many cancers, including colorectal cancer. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables also protect against several cancers, including cancers located in the mouth and throat.


A recommended goal is to eat at least five servings of non-starchy fruits and vegetables and at least 30 grams of fiber each day. You can do this by adding fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in every meal and enjoying them as snacks. Examples of these foods are:

  • a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, pineapple, broccoli, bell peppers, leafy greens, and blueberries

  • whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, and oats

  • legumes including black beans, chickpeas, and lentils


2. Limit Convenience Foods to Reduce Cancer Risk

“Fast foods” are convenient foods that are often very processed. “Processed” means they’re heavily manufactured and don’t resemble their natural state. (Think of an apple picked from a tree and how much it goes through to become part of an apple pie). Examples of convenience foods include burgers, fried chicken, potato chips, fries, cakes, pastries, candies, and candy bars.


Many fast foods are engineered to be very tasty (“highly palatable”) and are prone to be enjoyed often and in large quantities. Fast foods are almost always high in fat, salt, and simple starches or sugars. They also usually have a long shelf-life so they can be stored for a long time (e.g., they’re not “fresh” foods that can wilt or go bad quickly). Eating too many fast and highly processed foods is linked to increased weight, insulin, blood sugar, and blood pressure.


The goal to reduce your cancer risk—and to improve your overall health—is to limit how often and how much fast food is eaten.


3. Limit Red & Processed Meat

Meat can be a good source of protein, iron, zinc, and Vitamin B12. However, eating too much red and processed meat is linked to many cancers, with the strongest link being to colorectal cancer.


Red meat includes beef, pork, veal, lamb, and goat. Processed meat is meat that has been salted, smoked, cured, or fermented. These processes are done to enhance the flavor of the meat and also to preserve it and increase its shelf life. Examples of processed meats are hot dogs, bacon, salami, sausages, and deli meats like ham.


Red and processed meats can contribute to cancer risk because they may contain or create cancer-causing substances when they’re processed and cooked (charred). They can also contribute to excess weight, which is a risk factor for many cancers.


The goal is to enjoy red meat up to three portions per week and have even less processed meat. When you do eat red meat, you can choose leaner cuts of it, or even substitute it from time to time with other higher-protein foods like poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, nuts, or dairy.


4. Cut Down on Sugary Drinks to Help Fight Cancer Risk

Sugar-sweetened drinks include sodas and energy drinks, as well as sugar added to other beverages like tea and coffee. There is strong evidence that high intakes of sugary drinks contribute to excess weight and increase risk of cancer.


Fun fact: Drinking coffee may protect against liver, endometrial, mouth, and throat cancers. Drinking tea (but not maté tea) is linked to a reduced risk of bladder cancer.


Pro tip: Did you know most coffee shops will happily make their signature drinks with half of the sugar/syrup? On your next trip out to the coffee shop, ask for your drink to be “half sweet”


Try to reduce your intake of sugary drinks by having them less often and in smaller amounts. It is recommended to enjoy beverages with less sweetener, not more artificial sweeteners.


Cancer is no small health risk and the empowering truth is that you absolutely have the ability to influence your health and future with nutrition. The foods (and drinks) you consume contribute to your healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer. And the great news is that these strategies can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases at the same time. You don’t need to overhaul everything right away because small, sustainable changes to your day- to-day life can lead the way to improved wellness.


RECIPE: Healthy BOWL


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