Did you know that you can reduce your risk of cancer by making some healthy lifestyle changes? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. A recent survey showed that fewer than half of Americans (41%) know that body weight has an impact on cancer risk, only 39% understand the protective effect of physical activity, and less than half (44%) are aware of the link between certain foods and cancer risk.
Almost everyone knows someone in their life who has been affected by cancer, and cancer is a topic that hits very close to home for me having had several family members diagnosed with cancer. However, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, approximately ONE-THIRD of cases of the most common cancers in the U.S. could be prevented by changing our diet and exercise habits. That is an estimated 374,000 cases of cancer in the United States!
Here is a summary of the top 10 recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research to help reduce your risk of cancer:
1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
Aim for a lower number on the Body Mass Index (BMI) – between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered the “healthy range”. Click here to calculate your BMI: http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/weight/tools_bmi_calculator.html
Where your body stores extra weight also affects cancer risk, carrying extra fat around our waists puts you at higher risk. You can check your waist measurement by placing a tape measure around your waist above the tip of your hip bone, measure after exhaling. For women a measurement of 31.5 inches or more, and for men a measurement of 37 inches or more, indicates higher risk.
2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Limit sedentary habits.
Physical activity helps us avoid weight gain, and it can help keep hormone levels healthy which can help reduce your risk of some cancers. Physical activity strengthens our immune system, helps keep our digestive system healthy, and burns calories which allows us to consume more foods that contain cancer protective nutrients without gaining weight.
3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
These foods are generally high in calories and low in other important nutrients. By limiting how much of these foods that we eat, we leave room for more nutritious cancer preventing foods and help prevent weight gain.
4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
Try to fill at least 2/3 of your plate with these plant based foods. Plant based foods are high in fiber, which is linked to a lower risk of cancer. They are also full of immune boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as phytochemicals that help protect cells from damage that may lead to cancer.
5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
Studies suggest we can eat up to 18 ounces a week of red meat without significantly raising our cancer risk. Beef, pork, and lamb are considered “red meat”. Research on processed meat shows cancer risk starts to increase with even small portions eaten daily, so try to limit foods like ham, bacon, salami, sausages, and hot dogs.
6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
You may have heard that a glass of red wine can be good for your heart. However, alcohol may also increase your risk for certain types of cancer. If you are going to enjoy a drink here and there, try to limit it to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 per day for women.
7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
Studies show that a high salt intake can damage the stomach lining, which may be related to stomach cancer. Most Americans get far more than the recommended 2,300mg. Start by making small swaps and replacing some high sodium foods for lower sodium options (hint – look for foods that are 150mg or less per serving).
8. Don't use supplements to protect against cancer.
High dose supplements of some nutrients may affect the risk of different cancers by upsetting the balance of nutrients in the body. More research is needed, but your best bet is to choose nutrient-rich whole foods that contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. **There are some situations where supplementation is recommended, so talk to your health care provider about what is best for you.
9. * If possible, breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding helps promote a healthy weight in both mother and baby. Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s risk of breast cancer by reducing levels of certain hormones, and helping the body get rid of any DNA damaged breast cells after breastfeeding.
10. * After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and being physically active may help reduce the risk for recurrence of certain cancers, particularly breast cancer.
*Special Population Recommendations
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