What to eat for cancer prevention
Did you know that eating certain foods may increase or decrease your risk of cancer? While there is no way to eliminate your risk, a healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing cancer as well as heart disease and diabetes.
Maintaining a healthy weight
After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the best way to prevent cancer. Currently, 70 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Studies have shown that being overweight or obese can increase your risk of 12 types of cancer: advanced prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, gallbladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, post-menopausal breast cancer, stomach cancer, and mouth, pharynx and larynx cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight by eating well and exercising more often. Regular moderate to vigorous exercise can lower your risk of breast, colon, endometrium and prostate cancer.
Antioxidants for cancer prevention
Antioxidants are compounds produced by the body and found in certain foods that hinder cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are produced by your cells when they use oxygen. Too many free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, which can damage cells and potentially lead to cancer and other diseases.
Antioxidants found in many foods can help the cells fight free radical damage. Some examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, manganese, selenium, and phytochemicals (such as flavonoids, carotenoids, polyphenols and allyl sulfides).
Foods that may help prevent cancer
Different antioxidants come from different foods, so it's important to eat a diverse diet. Here are some examples of foods rich in antioxidants:
Beta-carotene: Colorful vegetables and fruit, like mangoes, spinach and carrots
Lycopene: Red and pink produce, like watermelon and tomatoes
Lutein: Leafy green vegetables, oranges and corn
Selenium: Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, corn), eggs, cheese, nuts and legumes (peas, peanuts and beans)
Vitamin C: Colorful produce like bell peppers, berries and oranges
Vitamin E: Leafy greens, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils
Keep in mind that there isn't one food that is proven to prevent cancer. The best thing you can do for your health is to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lean proteins, not just those on this list above. The more colorful and diverse fruits and vegetables you have in your meal plan, the better.
Foods that may increase your cancer risk
Certain foods and beverages have been shown to increase cancer risk. These include:
Alcoholic beverages: If you drink, have no more than one drink per day if you're a woman or no more than two drinks per day if you're a man. One drink means 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine.
Highly processed food and fast food: These include foods that are high in fat, starches and sugar. They contribute to weight gain because they are high in calories, but low in fiber and nutrients. Processed foods may also increase inflammation in the body.
Red meat: This includes beef, pork and lamb. Limit red meat to 18 ounces or less per week. Instead, enjoy fish, chicken or plant-based protein like beans, nuts and seeds.
Processed meat: This includes bacon, sausage, lunch meat and hot dogs. Eat as little processed meat as possible.
Sugary drinks: Sweet tea, soda, fruit juices, sports drinks and other beverages are high in sugar and calories and low in nutritional value. They can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for cancer. Limit or avoid them as much as possible.
Tips for grocery shopping, cooking and building your plate
When shopping for cancer-preventing foods, aim to purchase minimally processed foods such as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
When building your plate, make sure it's half vegetables, one-fourth whole grains (brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, oats) and one-fourth lean protein (fatty fish, eggs, seafood, beans, chickpeas, lentils, lean chicken or turkey).
Some studies indicate that cooking meat at higher temperatures – such as grilling, broiling or frying – can cause chemicals to form that increase cancer risk. Steaming, braising, microwaving, poaching or stewing produces fewer of these chemicals.
While there's not one single food or diet that can eliminate your cancer risk, you can significantly lower your odds by maintaining a healthy weight, eating nourishing foods, not smoking and getting regular exercise.
If you are having trouble losing weight or are concerned about your cancer risk, talk to your primary care provider. Visit pardeehospital.org to find a primary care provider near you.
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