A variety of factors affects a person’s chances of developing cancer. For example, age, gender and family history all play a part in your odds of developing the disease. You can’t do anything about those risk factors. The good news is there are many lifestyle factors that affect your chances of getting cancer that you can control. For example, the foods you eat can affect your risk of developing cancer.
How Nutrition Plays a Role in Cancer
Nutrition plays a role in your chances of developing cancer in a few different ways. For instance, choosing unhealthy foods or portions that are too large can lead to becoming overweight, which is a risk factor for certain cancers.
Multiple studies have indicated that being overweight raises your risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends adults be as lean as possible without being underweight. An example of unhealthy choices includes foods that contain trans-fat and processed sugar since they can lead to weight gain.
Certain foods also are thought to contain carcinogens, which are cancer causing substances. For example, processed meats including sausage and bacon have preservatives that are thought to increase a person’s risk of colon and stomach cancer.
How you prepare food can also contribute to your cancer risk. For example, carcinogens can form if meat is burned or charred, such as when barbecuing.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, there is not a specific list of foods that conclusively cause cancer. But there are certain foods and drinks that may fuel the disease and other foods that contain nutrients that offer cancer protection. For example, alcohol should be limited. Even one alcoholic drink a day can increase your chances of developing larynx, colon and esophageal cancers.
Diet Recommendations to Decrease Cancer Risk
There is no magic food that prevents all types of cancer. But there are certain foods that appear to decrease your chances of developing some types of cancer.
One type of food that should be part of a cancer prevention diet is cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, cabbage and cauliflower, contain folate, carotenoids and vitamin C and E. According to the National Cancer Institute, studies indicate cruciferous vegetables may decrease cancer risk by inactivating carcinogens and protecting cells from DNA damage.
It’s also a good idea to include some raw veggies in your diet, such as broccoli, carrots and peppers. While you don’t have to completely adopt a raw food diet, raw vegetables retain all their nutritional value. When you do eat cooked veggies, be sure not to overcook them since that can remove some of their nutrients.
The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends eating five servings of fruits and non-starchy vegetables a day. But be sure to wash fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides that can increase your cancer risk.
Fiber should also be part of a cancer prevention diet. Fiber helps food move through the digestive tract quicker, which may decrease certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Good sources of fiber include beans, apples and whole grains including barley and oat.
Consider adding foods containing beta-carotene, which are thought to release a cancer-fighting chemical called tumor necrosis factor. Tumor necrosis factor may block cancer causing cells. Beta-carotene also boosts immune system function, which may help in cancer prevention. Foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe.
One nice thing about making dietary changes that may reduce your chances of developing cancer is it’s also good for your overall health. Not only do you get cancer reducing benefits, but you’ll also boost your immune system and maintain a healthy weight.
Tips on Making Dietary Changes and Sticking to it
One way to be sure you’re getting the right nutrients is to have a nutritional consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist. A dietitian or nutritionist will evaluate your current diet and make specific dietary recommendations based on your age, activity level and weight. A nutritional counselor is also well versed in which foods are thought to decrease the risk of developing cancer.
Once you have the knowledge and understand what foods you need to limit and which foods you should increase, consider setting goals to make the needed changes. Setting goals helps you develop a plan and take specific steps to meet your objective. Once you see the progress you’re making, it might motivate you to continue.
Making dietary changes is not always easy. If changing your eating habits seems daunting, it might be easier to make gradual changes. For example, start by limiting one type of food, such as processed meats, and increasing the serving of vegetables you eat. Making one or two healthy dietary changes at a time instead of a complete diet overhaul is more manageable.
It’s often easier to make dietary changes if you have support. If you’re eating lean meat and grilled vegetables and the rest of your family is eating pizza, it can make sticking to changes more difficult. Talk to your family members about the need for healthy eating habits and encourage them to get on board with your cancer prevention eating plan. Remember, your kids are never too young to learn healthy eating habits.
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