Five Diet and Lifestyle Changes That Can Lower Your Cancer Risk

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

It seems like more and more people that I know are being diagnosed with cancer. Seven years ago, my mom died of ovarian cancer. Two years later my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. Cancer does not run in either side of the family, which caused me to wonder what increased their risk. I also wanted to know what I could do lower my risk.

The good news is that there is a lot we can all do to decrease our chances of getting cancer. What you eat, how active you are, and how much you weigh are things you can influence and improve on every single day of your life.

These 5 changes will help to decrease your risk of getting cancer. There is emerging research that they can also decrease your risk of a recurrence if you are a cancer survivor.

1. Maintain a healthy weight. This is one of the most important things you can do. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 21 and 23. (This link will help you calculate your BMI.) That is easier said than done considering that over ⅔ of the population in the U.S. is either overweight or obese—but it is possible!

Cutting out calorie-dense foods such as sugary drinks, sweets, fast foods, and foods high in fat is a good place to start. For example, the Panda Express Two Entrée meal with double orange chicken and chow mein has 1,330 calories! For some people, that is how many calories they should have in the entire day. If you replace it with a large salad with lots of veggies with 1 tablespoon of salad dressing, a bowl of lentil soup, and a cup of strawberries, you would save over 900 calories.

2. Be physically active. Aim for 30 minutes, 5 days a week of some form of exercise you enjoy such as walking, running, hiking, swimming, or biking.

3. Eat mostly plant foods. Eat at least 3 pieces of fruit a day. Think of it as dessert after every meal. Eat as many veggies as you can. Aim for at least a few cups a day. In particular, go for the nonstarchy vegetables. Examples include kale, spinach, chard, romaine lettuce, baby greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, radishes, jicama, artichokes, onions, beets, celery, cauliflower, asparagus, hearts of palm, peppers (green, red, or yellow), sprouts, or sugar snap peas.

Also add beans, peas, and lentils to your diet. Choose whole grains instead of processed grains, such as oatmeal instead of corn flakes. Be adventurous and try things like quinoa or whole-wheat bulgur.

4. Avoid or limit red meat and totally avoid processed meats. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. I know that the ads say pork is the “other white meat”, but remember that food manufacturers like to twist the truth to make a sale.

5. It is best to avoid alcohol. If you do drink, only have 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men. But if you have a history of breast cancer, having 3 to 4 drinks per week is associated with a 30-percent increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, so avoiding it may be your best option.

More Good News

If you do the hard work to make these changes, you will also have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Good luck and remember, if I can do it, you can too!

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Five Diet and Lifestyle Changes That Can Lower Your Cancer Risk

  1. Just found your blog via Food Babe – love it! Just wondering, does having a BMI of below 21 increase your risk of cancer? 21-23 is such a narrow band within the “Normal” BMI range. Also – do you know what body fat percentage is generally ideal? I feel like body fat percentage may be a more accurate representation of your health.

  2. Thanks so much! I will check out your blog as well. Regarding your question, having a BMI below 21 does not increase your risk of cancer. The range for BMI is somewhat subjective but between 18.5 to 24.9 is considered okay. Having said that, the risk of diabetes can go up even with a BMI of 22.

    Body fat percentages differ depending on your age. For women from 20 to 29 it is 16 to 24% body fat and for women 30 to 39 it ranges from 17 to 25%. It can be tricky to get a correct body fat percentage. For example, hydrostatic weighing (under water weighing) is considered the gold standard but if you have dense bones, like African Americans, your percentage of fat will measure out lower than it really is.

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