Approximately one-third of the most common types of cancer in the U.S. would never occur if Americans ate more healthfully, moved more, and managed their weight better. If we add in not smoking and avoiding sun damage, then nearly half of all cancers in the US could be prevented.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) published their third expert report, "Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective." Based on a comprehensive search of the scientific literature, they summarized their findings in 114 pages and 10 basic recommendations...
10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations
1. Be a healthy weight. Excess body fat pumps out hormones and other compounds that can give cancer growth a boost. Carrying extra fat is a cause of at least 12 cancers.
Getting started: If you are at a healthy weight, are overweight, or have obesity, aim to avoid weight gain throughout adulthood. If you're overweight or obese, if possible, try to lose a few pounds to maintain as low of a weight as you can without dropping too low.
2. Be physically active. All types of activity reduce cancer risk by affecting hormones and immune function. A good goal is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Also limit your sedentary time.
Getting started: Find a few minutes here and there to move in any way you like. Take a 10-minute walk after lunch, hop on a stationary bike for 5 minutes before starting your dinner prep, plant or weed a garden. Get up for a few minutes every 30 – 60 minutes of sedentary time.
3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. These foods provide a host of vitamins, minerals, fibers, and phytonutrients. Aim for a variety of foods to get at least 30 grams of dietary fiber daily, 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits each day, and at least three servings of legumes weekly.
Getting started: Plant slant your plate by swapping out some animal foods for more plant foods, or simply reduce your portions of meats and cheeses to make more room for wholesome plant foods. Lean on canned and frozen vegetables when fresh are less convenient.
4. Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fats, starches, and sugars. Though these types of foods aren’t linked directly to cancer, they indirectly affect cancer risk because they’re associated with weight gain.
Getting started: Replace baked goods with a fruit-focused dessert like chocolate-drizzled strawberries. Enjoy a handful of nuts instead of handfuls of potato chips. Have a baked potato instead of fried potato fritters. Pack your lunch instead of relying on fast food.
5. Limit consumption of red and processed meats. Aim to limit red meat (beef, lamb, and pork) to no more than 12-18 ounces weekly and try to avoid processed meats -- like hot dogs, ham, and sausage -- to lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
Getting started: Keep portions of red meats to about the size of a deck of cards. Eat more fish and plant proteins than other animal proteins. Replace breakfast meats with beans or lentils or an additional serving of fruits and vegetables.
6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. These are linked to weight gain, which is linked to at least 12 types of cancer, so it’s best to have them very rarely.
Getting started: Replace at least one sugary drink daily with water, tea, coffee, or sparkling water.
7. Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is linked to 6 types of cancer. For the strongest protection, don’t drink alcohol at all.
Getting started: If you do drink, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more one standard drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. Measure your glass. A standard serving is 5-ounces of wine, 12-ounces of beer or 1 – 1.5-ounces of hard liquor.
8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention. Food is the best source of cancer-fighting nutrition.
Getting started: Talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist to see if you would benefit from supplements to fill in nutritional gaps, and explore how to fill those gaps with food.
9. For mothers, breastfeed your baby, if you can. Breastfeeding is good for both mom and baby. It’s also linked to a lower risk of breast cancer in the mother.
Getting started: Talk to your healthcare provider about breastfeeding before your baby is born.
10. After a cancer diagnosis, follow the above recommendations, if you can.
Getting started: Seek specialized nutritional advice from your healthcare team both during and after cancer treatment.
Learn more about each of these recommendations and about various types of cancer at the website of the American Institute for Cancer Research.
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.