For many years I practiced oncology nutrition (nutrition for people with cancer). To say that it was one of my most rewarding jobs would be an understatement. I loved meeting new people but more than that I loved meeting people who had the strength of titanium and hearts of gold.
I became interested in cancer prevention during that time. What could I do to help people prevent cancer from coming back and what could I do to help people never have to go through this terrible disease at all? As I began researching there were tons of research articles on diet and cancer prevention. After digging deeper, going to conferences, and reading evidence based books written by dietitians and medical doctors, I discovered that diet has a lot to do with cancer prevention…a whole lot!
In fact, a lot of lifestyle choices have to do with preventing cancer whether it is a recurrence or preventing it all together. What you eat, being active, lowering your stress, and having a healthy mindset are pillars to your well-being and help to reduce your cancer risk.
Here are the top 10 diet changes you can make to reduce your risk of cancer:
- Eat more plants: I mean, a lot more than you probably do right now. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends your diet should be at least 2/3 plants. Plant foods include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, wild rice, corn, whole wheat, barley), nuts, seeds, oils, herbs, and spices.
- Eat a lot less animal products: that includes meats, cheeses, butter, creams…anything that comes from an animal. I didn’t say avoid them because there are some benefits to eating a moderate amount of animal products (some of which include essential vitamins and minerals that you can’t get from plants). Our society just eats way too much!
- Focus on getting colors from your diet: and I don’t mean from m&m’s and skittles…for real. Eating a variety of colors from plant foods, gives your body a variety of antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect your cells from the nasty changes that form cancer cells.
- Red – tomato, watermelon, red bell pepper, red apple, sweet potato
- Orange – Oranges, pumpkin, cantaloupe, orange bell peppers
- Yellow – lemons, summer squash, yellow bell pepper, yellow tomatoes
- Green – broccoli, green beans, limes, green apples, lettuces
- Blue/purple – blueberries, purple cabbage, egg plant, purple onion, grapes
- White/tan – banana (you don’t eat the yellow skin), mushrooms, cabbage, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds
- Do what you can to avoid processed animal meat. Processed meats have been preserved by smoking, salting, curing or adding different preservatives. Deli meats, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and smoked sausage are all examples of meats that have been processed.
- Drink less alcohol. Men that means 2 drinks daily and women that means one drink daily (12 oz beer, 1 oz shot, 5 oz wine). Alcohol increases the risk of many cancers including breast, colon, liver, and mouth. If you don’t drink, don’t start. The cancer risk far outweighs the heart healthy protection of red wine. There are other things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
- Lose weight the healthy way. Being obese increases your risk for cancer. This doesn’t mean to start losing weight in an unhealthy way. Reduce portion sizes, be smart about food choices, eat a balanced diet, and discuss your goals with a registered dietitian.
- Eat more fat. But not just any fat, omega-3 fats. These fantastic foods help to reduce inflammation in your body which can help decrease your risk for cancer. Fit in more walnuts, pecans, canola oil, flax seed, chia seed, salmon, and tuna to get those wonderful omega-3’s!
- Drink tea. Green and white tea have a phytonutrient called EGCG. This powerful antioxidant has shown to be a super cancer fighter. Using tea bags instead of buying it pre-made in the store is much more effective. A splash of lemon or lime in your tea will increase the effectiveness of EGCG!
- Fermented foods. Yep, you read that right! Fermented foods have amazing bacteria that our bodies need in order to keep a good balance in our gut which may help to protect our body from cancer cells. Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefer, sourdough bread (the real stuff), yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh are all great sources of those friendly bacteria.
- Incorporate herbs and spices. Especially ones like turmeric, rosemary, basil, parsley, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. These have been shown to protect cells against cancer. Try to incorporate them in your typical diet to flavor your food and added protection.
Cancer prevention is so important. Each one of you reading this have been impacted by this terrible disease. Maybe it was you who was diagnosed. Perhaps a parent or sibling. Maybe a grandparent or extended family or a close friend. Regardless, we are fighting a war against cancer. Diet change is the military that can help protect our body from an infiltration of enemy cancer cells.
I’m so deeply passionate about eating for an anticancer lifestyle because I’ve seen cancer at its worst. I have seen it take the strong and make them weak. I’ve watched as it stripped away peoples sense of self. I sat with an individual who used to love to eat and cook not be able to even look at or smell food. I’ve held the hand of people who cried because they never thought it would have been them. But you know what? I’ve seen people rise victorious from cancer. I talked with survivors who can now appreciate the small things in life. I have laughed with survivors who look forward to a brand new life with a brand new outlook. I have eaten with survivors who taste food with so much appreciation. I have been thanked by survivors who said my simple diet tips had made them look at diet as an expedition with others not a journey alone.
Let’s do this together. Let’s change our eating habits together to help fight this terrible disease. Who is with me?!?!
Stay tuned, later this month, for an anticancer eating plan and more tips on making your diet powerful in the fight against cancer!
For more information on anticancer eating check out the American Institute for Cancer Research.