Nutrition for Cancer Prevention

According to the National Cancer Institute, dietary factors are thought to be the cause for about 30% of cancers in Western countries. Fortunately, diet is one of the cancer risk factors you have the power to alter. Read on to learn how foods in your daily diet can lower your potential risk of developing cancer.

Western countries have diets statistically high in animal products, fat and sugar—and also have high rates of colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. Being overweight or obese has also been seen to increase the risks of several common cancers. Nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention are similar to those for preventing other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Work with your primary care provider or a dietitian to gauge your overall dietary health.

Some nutrition and dietary factors to consider:

Fiber and other cancer-fighting nutrients. Studies show that fiber provides potential protective effects against cancer. While it is recommended to consume least 25-30 grams of fiber per day, the average U.S. citizen consumes only 10-15 grams. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. Other cancer-fighting substances in fruits and vegetables include carotenoids; beta-carotene, vitamins C, E, K; folate; flavones and indoles.

Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and make at least half your grains whole grains. A diet rich in these plant-based foods can also help you stay at a healthy weight.

Fat intake. Recent studies show an excessive consumption of fat affects cancer risks. The average U.S. diet contains about 37 percent fat. While the National Cancer Institute suggests lowering your intake to 30 percent, other studies find that dropping fat consumption well below 30 percent may have an anti-cancer effect.

Reduce your intake of foods with added sugars and solid fats, which provide a lot of calories but few nutrients. These foods include sugar-sweetened beverages, processed snack foods and desserts.

Meat. Certain cooking and processing techniques of meats may lead to an increased cancer risk. The processes of smoking, salting, adding nitrates or related compounds, and cooking at high temperatures can convert meats into carcinogenic compounds within the colon.

Your best bet is to limit processed meats and instead include a variety of whole-food-based protein such as fish, skinless poultry and lean cuts of pork and beef. Consider eating plant-based sources of protein such as beans more often.

Alcohol. Excessive intake of alcohol raises one’s risks for cancers of the breast, mouth, pharynx and esophagus, as well as potential stomach, liver and colon cancers. It is considered more harmful when combined with smoking.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends limiting alcoholic drinks—if consumed at all—to one serving daily for women and two for men. (A serving of alcohol is considered 1½ fluid ounces of hard liquor, 5 fluid ounces of wine or 12 fluid ounces of beer.)