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From OncoLog, July 2011, Vol. 56, No. 7

Eating Healthier May Reduce Cancer Risk
Healthy eating habits may also increase energy and heart health

Graphic: House CallYou probably know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables decreases your risk of heart disease, but you may not have heard that these foods might also decrease your risk of certain types of cancer.

Plant foods contain phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and may protect against cancer. Diet experts recommend that at least two-thirds of your plate be filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans (including peas and lentils). Eating more of these foods may lower your risk of developing cancers at several sites, including the breast, digestive tract, lung, and prostate.

Increasing your daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and beans is easier than you might think. For example, you can:

  • eat a variety of vegetables, particularly red, orange, and dark green vegetables, as well as beans and peas;
  • carry a piece of fruit and a bag of bite-sized vegetables with you for a snack;
  • grate vegetables, such as zucchini or carrots, into spaghetti sauce and casseroles; and
  • eat one or two servings of fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack.

More fiber, less red meat

Photo: StrawberryDietary fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body does not digest. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, studies have shown that eating foods high in fiber may reduce your risk of colon cancer.

As you increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, and beans you eat each day, the amount of fiber in your daily diet will naturally increase, too. But you also need to replace refined grains (like white flour and white rice) with whole grains (like whole wheat flour and brown rice) to reach your daily fiber goals. Women should eat at least 25 grams of fiber each day, and men should eat at least 38 grams of fiber per day.

You can increase your intake of fiber by including the following:

  • one medium-sized pear, apple, orange, or banana (3–5 grams of fiber);
  • 1/2 cup of cooked black beans (6–9 grams of fiber);
  • 3/4 cup of bran cereal (5 grams of fiber); and
  • one small baked potato with the skin (3 grams of fiber).

Eating large amounts of red meat (including beef, pork, lamb, and goat) and processed meat (which has been smoked, cured, salted, or treated with other preservatives) may increase your risk for colon cancer.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a personal goal of eating no more than 18 ounces (500 grams) of red meat per week and consuming little, if any, processed meat.

Healthy habits

Changing your eating habits may take some time, but the benefits are worth the effort. In addition to decreasing your risk of heart disease and possibly cancer, a healthy diet will increase your physical energy and mental well-being. To make eating healthy a lifelong practice, try these strategies for adopting a new healthy habit:

Make smart goals. Take small steps that are measurable, attainable, realistic, and timed. For example, your goal for the first month might be to double your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Focus on rewards instead of punishment. Treat yourself to a reward, like a massage or a movie, when you reach a goal. Rather than punishing yourself when you slip up, remind yourself of the steps you have taken toward living a healthier lifestyle.

Go public. Let others know you have decided to change your eating habits. Your friends and family can provide encouragement.

Learn more about nutrition. Gather information from your health care provider, books, Web sites, and support groups.

Keep a food diary. Keeping track of what you eat will make you more aware of your behavior and more accountable for your choices. Eating healthy will also help you maintain a healthy weight. Since obesity increases the risk for cancers of the colon, uterus, breast (after menopause), esophagus, pancreas, and kidney, maintaining a healthy weight may further decrease your risk of cancer.

— S. Moreau

For more information, talk to your physician, visit www.mdanderson.org, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789, or visit the American Institute for Cancer Research or the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Other articles in OncoLog, July 2011 issue:

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