New research is confirming that small choices we make each day have an important impact on our cancer risk. What we eat, how we prepare it, whether or not we exercise, manage our weight, drink alcohol or smoke - these simple decisions make an important difference.
Scientists estimate that 30 to 40 percent of all cancers could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. The guidelines to reduce cancer risk are the same for reducing other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and adult-onset diabetes.
These guidelines come from a landmark research report, Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, published in 1997 by the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Recommendations to reduce cancer can be summarized in six practical guidelines. These simple action steps represent the best advice science currently offers for lowering your cancer risk.
- Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans contain natural substances that help our bodies to destroy carcinogens before they cause cancer.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. When it comes to fighting cancer, vegetables and fruits are the most vital part of a plant-based diet. Consider this from the American Institute for Cancer Research report: If the only change people made was to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, cancer rates would drop by at least 20 percent.
- Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. We gain weight when we eat more calories than we burn off through daily activities and exercise. Physical activity plays a vital role in helping us reach and keep a healthy weight.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all. Drinking alcohol is definitely linked to increased risk for cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and liver. Moderation means women should have no more than one drink a day, and no more than two for men.
- Select foods low in fat and salt. Of particular concern are saturated fats, found mostly in animal-based foods, and trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, use moderate amounts of monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil.
- Prepare and store food safely. Cooking meat, poultry and fish at high temperatures, especially over an open flame, causes cancer-promoting substances to form on the surface of the meat. In addition, when fat drips into the fire, the smoke and flames that rise up onto the food leaves behind carcinogenic substances. It is best to use lower heat options like baking.
- And always remember... Do not use tobacco in any form.