Healthy Choices and Cancer – Good nutrition plays an important role in cancer prevention and treatment

By Anne Wilfong, R.D., L.D. – February 7, 2013

Working with cancer patients has given me the opportunity to witness how nutrition can play a vital role in the prevention of cancer as well as improve outcomes during and after treatment. I have developed a particular interest in collaborating with cancer patients and my passion has only increased through the years. In “2012 Cancer Facts and Figures,” the American Cancer Society reports that “scientific evidence suggests that about one-third of the 577,190 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2012 will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition and thus could also be prevented.” Think about that: If your food and physical activity choices can affect your risk of developing cancer, how are you doing? The following are some of the modifiable lifestyle choices recommended by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR):

If consumed at all, limit alcoholic beverage drinks to two for men and one for women per day. 

You may be surprised to know America has even supersized the wine glass. Did you know that five ounces of wine is considered one serving? Try this experiment: Pour yourself a glass of wine as you typically would and then pour it into a measuring cup to see how much you are really serving yourself. People generally pour themselves between six and eight ounces each serving.

Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.

Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. If your BMI is over 24.9, even a ten percent weight loss can improve your health. Your waist circumference—not the tiniest part of your waist, but your waist measurement starting at the top of your hipbone—is also an important measurement. Women with a waist of 31.5 or more and men with a waist of 37 inches or more are at a higher risk.

Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.

The good news is that shorter bursts of activity also count toward this goal, so the excuse “I only have 15 minutes” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Combining 15 minutes of exercise in the morning with 15 minutes in the evening still get you to a 30-minute total.

Avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods.

Sugary drinks are EVERYWHERE, and they aren’t limited to just soft drinks; flavored waters, teas, and sports drinks can all add calories without adding nutritional value. Read the label carefully and, if you choose to consume juice, opt for 100 percent fruit juice and limit your intake to six to eight ounces per day.

Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.

A plant-based diet, with two-thirds of your plate being vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, is ideal. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce are high in carotenoids and flavonoids. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower are sources of vitamin C, folate, and fiber. For a meat-free meal, try roasting some cruciferous vegetables and serving them with whole wheat pasta tossed in a light pesto sauce.

Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.

Yes, pork is considered a red meat by the AICR. Red and processed meats have been linked to colorectal cancers. AICR’s recommendation is to eat less than 18 ounces per week of red meat and to eat processed meats such as bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, hotdogs and sausages as little as possible.

Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).

Use salt sparingly when you cook; if you choose whole, natural foods, you won’t have a problem staying under the 2400-mg of sodium per day recommended by the AICR. Processed foods are loaded with salt and this has been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer.

Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.

Getting your nutrients through food is the best way. We are still learning about when foods are eaten in their natural state. Supplements won’t necessarily provide the synergistic effects they guarantee.

Don’t chew or smoke tobacco.

No explanation needed.
There are so many things you can do now to reduce your risks of developing cancer, and all the recommendations above may reduce your chance of becoming obese and or developing diabetes. If you find you have a lot of changes to make, start small, pick one area to work on, and go from there. For more information, visit and


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