27In the United States, approximately one in four people will develop cancer in their lifetime. While each case is unique, there’s no doubt about the huge physical and emotional toll that cancer can cause. This leaves many people wondering whether there are steps they can take to prevent cancer.
The causes of cancer are complex and numerous. Unfortunately, there is no intervention that can ever reduce your risk to zero. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Factors such as smoking, exercise, and healthy eating can significantly affect your risk (as well as providing many other health benefits!).
One of the most significant risk factors for many types of cancer is diet. Research has shown that a diet based largely on minimally processed plant foods is associated with a decreased risk of cancer.
What Does a Plant-Based Diet for Cancer Risk Reduction Look Like?
The dietary pattern that has been associated with the lowest risk of cancer is based on plant foods such as:
- Whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, and oatmeal)
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and soy)
These foods are rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibre. Many of these nutrients – particularly fibre – are thought to protect against cancer.
It’s important to note that there are many ways to follow a plant-based diet for cancer risk reduction. For example, you could choose to be fully vegetarian or vegan, but you may also choose to include some animal products in your diet in smaller amounts. Either approach, if well-planned, is consistent with the guidelines for cancer prevention.
What Foods Should We Eat Less Of?
Red and processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. It’s recommended to limit red meat to a maximum of 500g (1.1 lb) per week and to eat very little if any, processed meat. Processed meats include bacon, ham, deli meats, and other meats that have been prepared with preservatives, smoking, or curing.
Excess alcohol intake is also a risk factor. If you drink alcohol, limit to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Can Dietary Supplements Reduce the Risk of Cancer?
There is no evidence that nutritional supplements reduce the risk of cancer. Taking individual nutrients as supplements doesn’t provide the same benefit as eating whole foods, which are much more nutritionally complex.
However, this doesn’t mean that supplements are never beneficial. For individuals who may have trouble obtaining or absorbing a specific nutrient, a supplement can be an excellent solution. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you think you might benefit from a particular type of supplement.
If You Want to Know More
For the complete set of cancer risk reduction guidelines, please see the World Cancer Research Fund.
What other foods have you heard associated with cancer risk reduction? Our team of dietitians will answer your questions in the comments!
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