Nutrition and Cancer Prevention


Nutrition and diet play roles in both the prevention and management of cancer. Although the medical community does not entirely understand the intricacies of how each aspect of the diet affects the initiation and progress of every type of cancer, there is a general agreement that a diet rich in plant foods, and one that is low in animal foods, seems to protect against certain types of cancer. This is also the preferred diet for most people undergoing cancer treatment. While well-balanced diets can help lower risk, there is no one known dietary approach that will outright prevent cancer. Research indicates that the combination of a healthy diet along with a physically active lifestyle and maintenance of a healthy weight are the cornerstones of cancer prevention (WCFR and AICR, 2007).

Nutrition and Cancer Prevention

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCFR) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) suggest that one in three cancer cases can be prevented through changes in diet and lifestyle. The WCRF/AICR maintains that the tenets of cancer prevention are an optimal diet, adequate levels of physical activity, and a healthy weight.

Nutrition and Cancer Prevention Photo Gallery

Long before the USDA adopted MyPlate and plate-based methods of meal planning, AICR endorsed their own plate method called “The New American Plate.” The New American Plate model suggests that two-thirds of the plate should be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while less than one-third should be lean animal protein. For individuals who do consume animal foods, lean or low fat sources of animal protein are preferred. In their report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, the AICR recommends the following for preventing cancer:

• Eating mostly plant-based foods, which are low in energy density

• Being physically active

• Maintaining a healthy weight (by following the two steps above, as well as reducing portion size)

In addition to eating more plants and less animals, it appears that limiting salt, alcohol intake, and foods and drinks that promote weight gain, and achieving a healthy weight along with physical activity may protect against the development of certain types of cancer (WCRF and AICR, 2007). More specific dietary recommendations for cancer prevention include:

• Eating five servings of non-starchy fruits and vegetables per day

• Eating relatively unprocessed grains and/or legumes for every meal

• Limiting refined starchy foods

• Minimizing processed meat, and if one does eat red meat, limiting it to no more than 18 oz. of red meat per week

• Limiting consumption of alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men

• Limiting salt intake to less than 6 grams (2,400 mg sodium) per day

• Avoiding sugary drinks and consume fast foods sparingly, if at all

In addition to being overweight and consuming a high-animal foods diet, there are other factors that can increase the risk of developing cancer. Additional risk factors include excessive sunlight exposure, cigarette smoking or tobacco use, under-vaccination, and exposure to environmental pollutants. Table 3.3 outlines the cancer prevention guidelines from the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research

Cancer prevention guidelines from the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF and AICR, 2007)

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