Nutrition for Cancer Prevention

By a PacMed Dietitian

Western countries have diets statistically high in fat, sugar and animal products—and also have high rates of colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. Being overweight also can increase the risk for several common cancers.

Fortunately, what you eat is one of the cancer risk factors you have the power to alter. Here are four dietary factors to prompt you to eat more healthily.

  1. Fiber and other cancer-fighting nutrients. Studies show that fiber may protect against cancer. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. But the average US citizen consumes only half of the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber per day. To get more, aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, and make at least half your grains whole grains.
  2. Fat intake. Recent studies show that consuming too much fat affects cancer risks. The average US diet contains about 37 percent fat. The National Cancer Institute suggests lowering your intake to 30 percent—and other studies find that going well below 30 percent may have an anti-cancer effect. To make a change in fat intake, cut back on saturated fat sources like meats, processed snack foods and desserts. These foods have lots of calories from added sugars and solid fats, but few nutrients.
  3. Meat. Smoking, salting, adding nitrates and cooking at high temperatures can convert meats into cancer-causing compounds within the colon. Your best bet is to limit processed meats and instead eat a variety of fish, skinless poultry and lean cuts of pork and beef. Also consider eating plant-based sources of protein such as beans, nuts and soybeans more often.
  4. 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. Alcohol 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 1½ fluid ounces of hard liquor, 5 fluid ounces of wine or 12 fluid ounces of beer.)

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 gage your overall dietary health or take this quick survey.

For more information about PacMed and our dietitian services, please visit our PacMed Dietitian page or call 206.505.1300