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Eat for Prevention: How Good Nutrition Can Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Eat for Prevention: How Good Nutrition Can Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s the ideal time to learn more about cancer and understand the crucial role nutrition has in cancer prevention.

According to the American Cancer Society, almost 1.7 million new cancer cases and more than 600,000 cancer-related deaths are projected to occur in the United States this year. About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

In 2014, more than 630,000 cancer diagnosis were linked with the patient being overweight or obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means 40% of all cancers diagnosed are obesity-related.

Eating for prevention

Based on this, maintaining a healthy body weight is essential to reducing your risk of cancer. These tips can also help:

  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol. Regular or heavy alcohol consumption increases risk of many cancers, including mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and rectum. If you do imbibe, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

A standard drink is considered 12 ounces of beer; 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey; or 5 ounces of wine.

  • Eat less meat. Consuming more than 18 ounces of red meat per week has been shown to increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Red meat includes beef, lamb, and pork.
  • Add phytochemicals to your diet. Found in brightly colored and strongly flavored fruits and vegetables, these plant chemicals alter the processes in our bodies to help stave off cancer. They block substances from becoming carcinogens, prevent DNA damage, and help repair DNA. They also slow the growth of cancer cells, and they can cause cancer cells to self-destruct.
  • Eat more fiber. Fiber has been found to lower cancer risk by decreasing the amount of time toxins and carcinogens are in the gastrointestinal tract. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are good sources of fiber. 
  • Seek out plants. A plant-focused diet can help reduce cancer risk. The “New American Plate” recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research calls building your meals with two-thirds vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, and one-third plant- or animal-based proteins.

Following these diet recommendations, plus being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight, can go far in helping prevent cancer. For a simpler rule of thumb, you can also follow the advice of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

To learn more about improving your health through nutrition, contact the nutrition professionals at the YMCA. 

Nutrition expertise at the YMCA

Pamela Cook, RDN, helps members at the Littleton Family YMCA live healthy. She is here to provide nutrition counseling, lead classes in healthy cooking and meal planning, and share helpful nutrition tips that can improve your overall health. If you're struggling to meet your fitness goals, or you just want to start eating better, learn more about the Y's nutrition programs, and look for regular YMCA emails on Healthy Eating at the Y.