Nutrition Bites: Healthy Lifestyle for Cancer Prevention

With one-third of all cancer deaths related to poor diet and physical activity, it's no surprise that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to cancer prevention. In fact, when asked the number one way to prevent cancer, Laura Kerns, a Registered Dietitian at University Medical Center and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition, keeps it simple, "Eat your fruits and vegetables! Research shows that consuming a plant-based diet with healthy fats, similar to the Mediterranean diet, is best for preventing cancer of all types." Here's how to incorporate the American Institute for Cancer Research cancer prevention guidelines into your lifestyle. Set a goal each month to adopt one of these guidelines below, and continue adding them throughout the year so you can gradually build up your healthy habits.

1. Maintain a healthy body weight
A healthy body weight is defined as a BMI between 18-24.9 for adults. Obesity is related to several types of cancers and contributes to 1 out of 5 cancer related deaths. To find out your BMI, visit

2. Include at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, limit sedentary behaviors
Strength training exercises should be incorporated 2 days per week, and cardio activity should be moderate (walking or dancing) to vigorous (jogging or cycling).

3. Avoid sugary drinks, limit energy-dense foods
Liquid calories from sugary drinks can add up quickly. Avoiding soda, energy drinks, and fruit flavored beverages is the best way to keep off extra pounds. Similarly, energy-dense foods, like chips, cookies, and cake have a lot of calories but offer little to no nutrition. Focus on drinking water and consuming energy-dense foods in moderation.

4. Eat a plant-based diet including a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, and legumes such as beans and lentils
Research clearly highlights the benefits of consuming a plant-based diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and legumes. Not only are these foods low calorie, low fat, and high fiber, they also contain antioxidants. Antioxidants have been found to reduce the risk for cancer by protecting healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive cells produced through everyday activities, such as breathing and physical activity, or lifestyles choices, such as smoking. They may react with and cause damage to cell membranes and DNA which increases the risk for cancer. Antioxidants can be found in the following foods:
o Vitamin E – vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products
o Vitamin C – citrus fruits, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes
o Carotenoids – tomatoes, carrots, spinach, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli

5. Limit red meat to no more than twice per week, and limit processed meat as much as possible
Red meat, such as beef and pork, is higher in cholesterol than most other meat. Elevated cholesterol can lead to many other health issues, like cardiovascular disease or stroke, as well as obesity. Similarly, most processed meats, such as ham, bacon and hot dogs, contain cancer-causing nitrites.

6. Cut back on alcohol consumption – no more than 1 drink per day for women, no more than 2 drinks per day for men
It is important to note that 1 drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1 ounces of liquor.

7. Limit salty foods and foods processed with salts, like canned foods
High sodium intake of more than 2400 mg per day can cause harm to the lining of the stomach, causing stomach cancer. Choose "reduced sodium" or "no salt added" canned foods. For other items, look for low sodium indicated by 5% or less of sodium per serving on the nutrition label.

8. Do not use supplements to prevent cancer
While supplements and other products may seem like an easy way to get vitamins and minerals into the diet, research has shown that whole-foods offer the best protection from cancer.

9. When possible, exclusively breastfeed for up to 6 months
By lowering the cancer-related hormones in the mother's body, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer while offering the best nutrition for the child.

10. If a cancer survivor, follow the recommendations for cancer prevention
For more cancer prevention tips, check out The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and The American Institute for Cancer Research.

By Kelsey Rosenbaum MS, RD, LDN

(Nutrition Bites is a recurring feature that appears regularly in the Tulane PRC’s e-newsletters and covers nutrition and health tips from Kelsey Shanklin, MS, RD, LDN. If you have any suggestions for Nutrition Bites topics, please contact Naomi Englar at or 504-988-7410.)

Topics:   diet , nutrition , food environment , food marketing , health communication

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