Lois Zsarnay

Reducing Cancer Risk

by Lois Zsarnay, LMFT, BCPC, RD

One-Third Cancer Cases Related to Diet & Exercise Factors

Research suggests that approximately 1/3 of the 500,000 cancer deaths in the United States each year is due to dietary factors. For Americans who do not smoke cigarettes, the most important risk factor a person can control to reduce the chances of developing cancer is a combination of diet & physical activity. Making changes to improve diet & exercise at any age will promote health & lower cancer risk.

Studies have shown that people who eat the following recommended foods have a lower risk for developing cancer. Scientific research does not demonstrate a reduction of cancer risk from taking supplements or food extracts and they may actually increase cancer and other health risks. In other words, eat the real, whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, instead of supplements! After reviewing the whole body of research available, the American Cancer Society has developed

4 basic guidelines on nutrition and cancer prevention:
1) choose most of the foods from plant sources
2) limit the amount of high-fat foods, especially from animal sources
3) be physically active to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and
4) limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Since other newsletters have discussed weight management and exercise, let’s focus on the first 2 guidelines. First, choose most of the foods eaten from fruits, vegetables, grains, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, beans, etc. Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day by including them in every meal and using them for snacks. Choose whole grains over processed or refined grains, like whole wheat bread instead of white, to get more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Use beans as an alternative to meat – they are a good protein and fiber item with very little fat. Second, use lower fat foods, such as non-fat milk and dairy products, and leaner cuts of meat. Eat more chicken or turkey (without the skin) and fish. Although Americans only need about 4 – 6 ounces of protein per day, most people eat that much meat at lunch and again at dinner! Therefore, eat smaller amounts of meat and have them baked or broiled instead of fried. Replace some of that animal protein with good vegetable protein sources such as beans or tofu, which are also good sources of other important nutrients.

Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, if you drink at all. Cancer risk from alcohol consumption may start to increase with as little as 2 drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. People who drink heavily are often substituting the alcohol for other beneficial, nutrient rich foods, which may increase their risk even more.

In summary, lowering risk for developing cancer means eating a balanced diet with less animal fat, more fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains, and at a calorie level to maintain healthy weight. The best way to achieve this is to take one step at a time. Remember, progress, not perfection, has the greatest benefit.

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