April 18, 2024
April 17, 2024

Cancer Prevention Diet: A Quick Start Guide

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Cancer Prevention Diet: A Quick Start Guide

As a leading cause of death worldwide, cancer poses a health challenge for everyone. The good news is that many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable. While genetics and environmental factors are undeniable contributors, the impact of lifestyle choices, particularly a healthy diet, is monumental in cancer prevention. 

This guide delves into nutrition and lifestyle adjustments to reduce cancer risk. By adopting a cancer prevention diet and mindset, you can lower your overall risk and enjoy a healthier life.

Genetics vs. Lifestyle: A Balanced View

While 5-10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic factors, the vast majority are influenced by lifestyle and environmental conditions. In fact, recent studies suggest that 40% of all cancer cases are potentially preventable via better food choices and a healthier lifestyle. 

This statistic highlights the power to modify your risk through lifestyle choices, including healthy eating. Recognizing this balance between genetic factors and modifiable lifestyle choices is crucial in your cancer prevention journey.

How Diet Affects Cancer Risk

The latest cancer research in cancer prevention focuses on eating a well-balanced diet of nutrient-rich healthy food and avoiding problematic foods and additives. 

For example, a 2023 study published in Research and Biotechnology suggests that a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like omega-3 from flaxseed oil can help protect against cancer by providing antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals. 

Phytochemicals are naturally found in plants that help fight disease by neutralizing harmful compounds, promoting gut health, and potentially disrupting cancer cell growth. On the other hand, recent research published in Lancet found that diets high in processed foods like hot dogs, red meat, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats can increase cancer risk by promoting chronic inflammation, introducing carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), and leading to insulin resistance and nutrient deficiencies.

Cancer Prevention Diet: 10 Dietary Shifts That Can Reduce Your Risk

Cancer prevention diet: mother and daughter buying fruits and vegetables at a supermarket

The foundation of a cancer prevention diet is built on principles that emphasize nutrient-dense foods and minimize the intake of harmful foods. The following core principles represent key changes that you can make today to reduce your risk of cancer. Consider these guidelines and learn more about cancer-fighting foods.

1. Eat a Diet of Diverse Fruit and Vegetables 

Consuming a mostly plant-based diet can reduce your risk of cancer. This means most nutrients should come from unrefined plant foods, although it doesn’t have to be strictly vegetarian or vegan. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale are linked to lower cancer risk for breast, colon, and oral cancers. The goal is to enjoy a diverse selection of veggies. A colorful plate is not only more appetizing, but the variation in fiber types will also nourish various gut microorganisms

2. Prioritize Whole Grains

Regularly eating whole grains can lower your risk of colorectal cancer and other types of cancer. A whole grain is still intact with the bran, germ, and endosperm. Foods containing sprouted whole grains may be easier for you to digest as the sprouting process breaks down some of the starch and phytate, which makes the nutrients in the grains more readily available to your body. 

Whole grains may offer health benefits that fight cancer because they contain more available phytonutrients and fiber than processed grains. Look for ingredients like whole wheat, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and oats. 

3. Choose Quality Proteins in Appropriate Amounts

Opt for proteins lower in saturated fats like chicken, fish, peas, legumes (beans and lentils), and tofu. Supplements like protein shakes made with whey may also offer health benefits — just make sure the sugar and calorie content align with your goals. These lean meat and meat-free protein sources are healthier than red meat, particularly concerning colorectal cancer. It’s also important to eat the appropriate protein servings for your body weight, age, and gender. 

4. Incorporate Healthy Fats 

Focus on healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and trout as part of a cancer prevention diet. These fats are integral for helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. They also have beneficial fatty acid compounds like omega-3, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Longevity diets like the Blue Zone or Mediterranean diet focus on healthy fats with excellent results. 

5. Limit Unhealthy Fats and Overheating Oils

Cancer prevention diet: person pouring olive oil into a tray of vegetables

Longstanding research shows a connection between inflammation and unhealthy fats like animal-derived, saturated, and trans fats. Moreover, when using oil for cooking, keep it below the smoke point as overheating any type of oil can cause it to become unstable and form free radicals — compounds that can cause cellular damage. 

Olive oil is considered a healthy oil, but it should not be used to cook at temperatures higher than 350°F. On the other hand, avocado oil has a high smoke point of about 520°F, making it a good option for high-heat cooking.

6. Avoid Sugary Drinks and Added Sugar

Sugar is not a known carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). However, recent research finds a direct (causal) link between high sugar consumption and cancer, including the consumption of naturally occurring and added sugar, fructose, and sucrose. 

Furthermore, excessive sugar consumption is known to contribute to obesity, a risk factor for developing a number of cancer types. Sugary drinks are linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer but more research is needed to understand the connection.

7. Stay Hydrated

Water regulates body functions and can aid in disease prevention, including cancer. Research finds that drinking more water is a convenient and beneficial way to prevent dehydration. While this needs to be studied further, research points out that dehydration may contribute to breast and colon cancer risks.

One way to tell if you’re hydrated is to check the color of your urine. If it’s pale or “straw-colored,” you are drinking enough water. However, urine that is dark yellow or amber means you need to drink more water. 

8. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol consumption has been recognized as a risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, liver, colorectal, and esophageal cancer. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed. Even light to moderate consumption accounts for half of all alcohol-related cancers. 

9. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Obesity and weight gain are linked to breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, even if you lose 5-10% of your total body weight or decrease your body mass index (BMI) by a few digits, you can significantly lower the risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Despite seeming like a modest effort, research suggests that the dietary shifts in this list can positively impact and contribute to reducing your risk of developing cancer.

10. Eat More Fiber

Cancer prevention diet: woman eating a bowl of oatmeal

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your cancer risk, and a high-fiber diet can assist in achieving this goal. Fiber comes in two forms — soluble and insoluble — and both contribute to a balanced diet that can help lower your cancer risk.

However, incorporating multiple fiber types may provide additional benefits by influencing the gut microbiome. Oats, chia seeds, beans, lentils, and apples are a few high-fiber foods. Recent research suggests a strong correlation between immunity, gut microbiome composition, and lower cancer risks, highlighting the importance of consuming different types of fiber for overall health and well-being.

Embrace a Cancer Prevention Diet and Mindset

Adopting a well-rounded approach to cancer prevention through a healthy diet, regular physical activity, stress management, and proactive screenings can help lower the risk of cancer. Consult with your healthcare professional or dietitian for personalized recommendations and to stay up-to-date with the latest research and guidelines on cancer prevention.

Understanding your personal risk factors for cancer is a vital part of developing a cancer prevention mindset. Ezra can help you understand your cancer risk factors with a 5-minute questionnaire. It can help you quickly assess your risks for developing certain types of cancer based on factors like family history, lifestyle habits, and your personal medical history.