Eating Well (2/2)

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Eating well is one of the 7 Healing Practices—an aspect of your well-being that you have control over. Eating well means nourishing yourself with food that is not only healthy but delicious.

Eating Well

Why Is Diet Important?

Key studies have looked at cancer outcomes from diet and specifically from eating a generally healthy diet—high in vegetables and fruits and low in meats or refined grains.

General Cancer and Cancer Symptoms

Improved Survival

  • Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables (or two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables) per day decreased risk of death from all causes, from cancer and also from cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease in two large US studies and a meta-analysis of 26 further studies in 2021. Eating starchy vegetables—such as peas, corn and potatoes—and fruit juices did not lower mortality.9

Manging Symptoms and Promoting Wellness

  • Slightly less anxiety and depression, slightly improved quality of life, plus changes in diet and a weak trend toward less fatigue among people with cancer with an online physical activity or diet intervention in a meta-analysis of RCTs1011

Reducing Risk

More than 80,000 new cancer cases in the United States in 2015 were estimated to be associated with suboptimal diets among US adults, with middle-aged men and racial/ethnic minorities experiencing the largest proportion of diet-associated cancer burden in the US. Colorectal cancer had the highest number and proportion of diet-related cases.13

 

  • The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research includes these recommendations to prevent cancer:14
    • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.
    • Limit consumption of "fast foods" and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars.
    • Limit consumption of red and processed meat.
    • Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • A large prospective study in France found that higher frequency of organic food consumption was associated with a reduced risk of cancer.15
  • Pairing diet with physical activity may be a synergistic combination. As Dr. David Servan-Schreiber explains in his book Anticancer, “In patients who already have cancer, there is a ‘dose effect’ relationship between regular application of practices that improve lifestyles and the degree of protection from the disease. The more involved these patients are in changing their ‘terrain’, the greater the benefits.”16

Diet’s Links to Specific Cancers

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) finds strong evidence of a link between diet, weight and physical activity and primary and secondary risk of the following cancers:17

 

 

AICR recommends that after treatment, cancer survivors follow their recommendations for reducing cancer risk when possible. These recommendations also reduce the risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Breast Cancer

 

Improved Survival

  • Reducing fat to 20 percent of energy and increasing vegetables, fruits, and grains in the diet significantly increased survival after breast cancer diagnosis in a large prospective study following women for 19 years.18
  • Another large study (Women’s Healthy Eating and Living study) included pre- and post-menopausal women and combined low fat intake with higher levels of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Over seven years, no difference was seen in breast cancer mortality between those following the modified diet and the control group.19
  • "Women who more closely followed a diabetes risk-reduction diet both before and after a diagnosis of breast cancer had lower risks for breast cancer–specific and all-cause mortality when compared with women with less healthy diets or those who did not substantially modify what they ate following diagnosis."20
  • An anti-inflammatory diet decreases overall mortality after a diagnosis of breast cancer by decreasing risk of death from cardiovascular disease.21
  • Frequently consuming sugar-sweetened soda beverages was associated with higher overall and cancer-specific mortality among ER-positive but not ER-negative patients, and among women with higher body mass indices (BMIs). Overall mortality was higher among premenopausal but not post-menopausal women with higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.22

Managing Symptoms and Promoting Wellness

  • A diet designed to address fatigue in breast cancer survivors showed positive results, including reduced fatigue, in a small pilot study. The diet was rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.23

Reducing Risk

  • Eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a reduced risk of invasive breast cancer24 and a 25 percent reduced risk of recurrence in post-menopausal women.25
  • The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living study included pre- and post-menopausal women and combined low fat intake with higher levels of fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Over seven years, no difference was seen in breast cancer recurrence between those following the modified diet and the control group.26 However, the subgroup of breast cancer patients on tamoxifen experienced reduced recurrence risk with increased intake of vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli family).27
  • A separate investigation also involving the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living study concluded: “A diet with higher vegetable, fruit, and fiber and lower fat intakes than the five-a-day diet may reduce risk of additional events in HF-negative breast cancer survivors [women not experiencing hot flashes].”28
  • A reduced-fat diet may lower risk of recurrence, according to a subsequent meta-analysis, which also looked at a secondary analysis of the WHEL study. Because the positive findings from WINS and the secondary analyses of WHEL were associated with weight loss or hormonal status, a reduced-fat diet's benefits may be due to metabolic hormones and factors associated with decreased fat tissue.29
  • Breast cancer patients who adopted a healthier diet and regular exercise lowered their risk of relapse by nearly half, an effect seen in both obese and nonobese women.30

See Breast Cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

 

Improving Survival

  • A 2018 study of almost 1000 colorectal cancer survivors found a 42 percent reduction in death at five years for those who followed the ACS guidelines (see above) most closely compared to those who followed them least.31

Reducing Risk

  • Western dietary patterns such as eating large amounts of processed meats and refined grains and low quantities of vegetables and fruits—the SAD diet—has been associated with higher risk of tumor recurrence and mortality in colorectal cancer.32
  • Foods associated with lower risk include these:33
    • Rich in marine omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and fish oils
    • High in calcium, such as yogurt and other dairy foods, and dark green leafy vegetables
    • Whole-grain foods
    • High in dietary fiber, such as whole grains, many fruits and vegetables, and legumes such as black beans, chickpeas or lentils
  • More than 52,000 new colorectal cancer cases in the United States in 2015 were estimated to be associated with suboptimal diet among US adults.34

See Colorectal Cancer for more information about the role of diet.

Head and Neck Cancer

 

Improving Survival

  • Eating a whole-foods diet before treatment for head and neck cancer is linked to fewer deaths in these patients.35

Reducing Risk

  • Carotenoids act protectively against head and neck cancer.36

See Head, Neck and Oral Cancers.

Prostate Cancer

 

Treating the Cancer

  • A program combining a number of lifestyle practices including a low-fat, vegetarian diet in a trial of “watchful waiting” of men with early stage prostate cancer found a lowering of PSA in the intervention group and a rise in PSA levels in the usual care group.37

See Prostate Cancer.

Uterine Cancer (Endometrial Cancer)

  • No evidence of improved overall or cancer-specific survival, although many studies are of poor quality and no cancer-related deaths were observed at all38

Foods and Food Preparation Methods: What’s the Connection to Cancer?

Vegetables

Vegetables and fruits are the stars in a plan for eating well, with research indicating that diets high in these foods reduce cancer risk and help reduce weight gain. We don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms by which these foods affect cancer and overall health. However, based on what we know, here are some ways that eating vegetables and fruits might contribute to improved outcomes:39

 

  • Vegetables, typically high in nutrients, fiber and water, are low in calories, making them nutrient-dense, filling and an ideal part of low-calorie diets.
  • Prioritize several fruits and vegetables with evidence of anticancer effects:
    • Some specific fruits appear to have anticancer properties
      • Pomegranate juice or extract has been associated with lengthening of PSA doubling times in prostate cancer
      • Blueberries inhibit the action of molecules that drive inflammation as well as cell damage from oxidation
    • Cruciferous vegetables, whose leaves have a “crucifix” pattern, hence the name: cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choi, and others. High in phytochemicals such as diindolylmethane, indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane, these are linked to reduced cancer risk with good evidence. Research, such as in prostate cancer, indicates that these foods may decrease the risk of cancer progression.
    • Carotenoids are phytochemicals found abundantly in some fruits and vegetables such as carrots, squash, mango, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Carotenoids have been linked to improved outcomes in people with cancers of the head and neck,40 breast41 and prostate (lycopene only).42 See Top 10 Foods Highest in Beta Carotene and Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene for guidance.
    • Alliums—garlic, onions, shallots, scallions and leeks—all have phytochemicals with strong anticancer effects, including organosulfur compounds, quercetin, flavonoids and saponins.43
    • Chili peppers containing capsaicin are associated with a significant reduction in all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer-related mortalities when consumed regularly.44

 

Sources of Proteins: Plants vs. Animals

Plant proteins from beans, nuts, seeds and grains are considered healthy protein sources. Protein from animals, including red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, is infused with saturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids and arachidonic acid. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked with higher mortality in some cancers—such as breast and prostate—compared to diets low in saturated fats. This may be due in part to the effect of saturated fat on weight gain. Omega-6 fatty acids and arachidonic acid are pro-inflammatory, which may contribute to their association with cancer.

Many meats are processed by salting, curing, fermentation or smoking and are collectively called "processed meats." These include deli meats, bacon and hot dogs. Processed meats often contain cancer-causing substances. Cured meats, for example may be cured with nitrites and/or nitrates, which are listed as probable carcinogens.49

Red and processed meats especially are associated with higher risk of several cancers, including colorectalprostate and stomach. Shifting to more plant-based proteins can reduce consumption of animal products while meeting your body’s need for protein.

The American Cancer Society has concluded that to reduce risk of cancer, a healthy eating pattern limits or does not include red and processed meats (see their guidelines above).50  

Some sources of animal proteins have a more health-supportive ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and may be preferable:

  • Grass-fed beef
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Higher omega-3 fatty acid eggs

See Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for more guidance.

The research on dairy and cancer is mixed, although Block and Gyllenhaal include low-fat dairy and whey protein supplementation in their guidelines for choosing healthier sources of dairy.51

Some integrative oncology programs, such as the Block Program, generally steer away from animal sources of protein because they contain saturated and omega-6 fats. Fish and egg whites are an exception.52

Plant proteins contain a number of health-promoting phytochemicals as well as fiber and complex carbohydrates.53 Additionally, legumes such as dried beans, lentils, split peas and chickpeas may help regulate blood glucose.54

The safety of breast cancer patients or survivors eating soybeans has been questioned. However, more recent studies suggest that most women with breast cancer can likely safely eat moderate amounts of whole-food sources of soy. The safety of soy isoflavone supplements is less certain. For more information on soy foods, see our Genistein/Soy page.

Nuts are another source of protein as well as healthy fat and fiber. An observational study of patients with stage 3 colon cancer who received surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy noted an association between consumption of two or more weekly servings of tree nuts and improved disease-free survival and overall survival compared to those who had not consumed any nuts.55

Sugar and Other High Glycemic-Load Foods

Regularly eating sugar and other high glycemic-load foods—refined grain products such as white bread, pasta, cakes and cookies; sweetened drinks; honey; fruit drinks; white potatoes and white rice—is problematic. See more about glycemic load at right.

Sugar and other carbohydrates (especially simple and refined carbs) are quickly converted to glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. When the pancreas detects this spike in blood glucose, it sends insulin to move the glucose into cells. If the blood glucose level is frequently spiking or continuously high, most cells will eventually be saturated with glucose and will become resistant to insulin’s attempt to move any more glucose inside. This is called insulin resistance, a condition associated with diets full of refined grains and sugary foods and drinks, which are typical in developed countries.

Cancer cells, however, use glucose for metabolism at 10 to 15 times the rate of normal cells and will continue to call for more glucose, which insulin will continue to provide. Packaged with insulin comes insulin-like growth hormone, which, as the name indicates, enhances cell growth. Thus high glycemic-load foods can favor cancer cells and enhance their growth. This preference of cancer cells for glucose metabolism is known as the Warburg Effect. We describe this process in greater detail in the on Ketogenic Diet page.

Several cancers have been linked to insulin resistance. High glycemic-load foods are a source of a significant number of empty calories, which also contribute to weight gain and obesity, which are associated with cancer risk.

Other concerns with high glycemic-load foods:

  • These foods are associated with inflammation, which is also associated with cancer.
  • Simple sugars seem to reduce the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria.59
  • Sugar and other high glycemic-load foods may also alter the balance of the gut microorganisms by supporting over-growth of yeasts and harmful bacteria.60

Thus, in a number of ways, eating sugar and simple carbohydrates alters the terrain (the “soil” of your body) in favor of cancer. The American Cancer Society states that to reduce risk of cancer, a healthy eating pattern limits or does not include sugar‐sweetened beverages or highly processed foods and refined grain products (see their guidelines above).61

Whole Grains

Although whole grains are often dismissed by proponents of eating a low-carbohydrate diet, evidence suggests they reduce cancer risk and improve glucose tolerance. Their high fiber content, especially insoluble fiber, helps normalize blood glucose and insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance. Whole grains are also high in health-promoting essential unsaturated fatty acids and anticancer phytochemicals such as lignans and flavonoids.

Including Healthy Fats

Until recently, we’ve tended to demonize fats, thinking all fat increased our risk for heart disease. Some thinking is swinging in the other direction, with some popular diets suggesting high-fat and low-carbohydrate content, often not paying attention to the kinds of fats. Most reputable organizations, such as the American Institute for Cancer Research, land with their recommendations somewhere in the middle.

For most cancers, in general, the recommendation is to eat a low-fat diet consisting of healthy fats (olive oil, nut oils, fish oils) and reducing the unhealthy fats (saturated fats, especially in red meat, trans-fats, and high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids). Limit total fat to 20 to 35 percent of dietary calories.

Different types of dietary fat have different health impacts.

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids are necessary, but typical Western diets have too large a ratio of omega-6 compared to omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Increase eating foods containing omega-3s, such as walnuts and wild-caught salmon and sardines.
  • Decrease eating foods that contain high amounts of omega-6s, such as vegetable oils such as from corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and cottonseed, and also processed and fast foods (which often use these oils). Replace high omega-6 oils with monounsaturated fatty acids such as extra virgin olive oil.
  • Eating low-fat dairy products, instead of high-fat options, is a good way to reduce total calories and saturated fats.
  • Eat less red meat, which is higher in saturated fats.

Coffee

Moderate coffee intake (two to four cups daily) was associated with fewer recurrences in breast cancer patients on tamoxifen.65  

Alcohol

Alcohol, though often associated with cardiovascular health in moderate amounts, is associated with increased risk for certain cancers:

Even small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly increase the risk for certain cancers, such as breast cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research advises, for reducing cancer risk: “not to drink alcohol. However, our recommendations recognize that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you do drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Alcohol appears particularly harmful when combined with smoking.”66

Food Preparation

Some food preparation methods, such as high-heat cooking, create carcinogens.67 For example, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked by pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. Smoking meat or fish also creates PAHs that cling to the food.68

To reduce the formation of these chemicals, cook with lower-temperature methods such as these:69

  • Steaming
  • Braising
  • Poaching
  • Stewing
  • Roasting

 

Some modification to grilling techniques can also reduce the formation of harmful chemicals:70

  • Marinate meat
  • Precook larger cuts
  • Use lean cuts
  • Cut meat into smaller portions and mix with vegetables

See more at the American Institute for Cancer Research: Guide to Healthy Grilling.

Acrylamide is another concerning chemical, produced when vegetables that contain the amino acid asparagine are heated to high temperatures in the presence of certain sugars. Strive for the “Golden Rule” when grilling, baking or broiling: cook the food to no more than light golden color. “The major food sources of acrylamide are French fries and potato chips; crackers, bread, and cookies; breakfast cereals; canned black olives; prune juice; and coffee.”71 However, NCI notes that most people are exposed to substantially more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food.

Contaminants in Food

Microbes

Microbes—bacteria, viruses, fungi and other living organisms—can contaminate food. While contaminated food can be a serious concern, some antibiotics used to treat animals may have their own health impacts on the people who consume the treated meat, eggs and dairy products.

Microbes thrive in conditions at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and so antibiotic use is generally very high in these operations. Organically raised, pastured animals not treated with steroids or growth-promoting antibiotics typically have much lower residues of these chemicals. Proper storage, prompt use or freezing, and proper cooking of fresh meat will also lower risks of food poisoning from microbes.

Chemicals

Potentially harmful chemicals can be introduced into foods in many ways:

  • Application of fertilizers and pesticides to crops
  • Chemical and metal residues in soil or water, including mercury, arsenic, PCBs, dioxins and flame retardants
  • Added preservatives, coloring agents or flavor enhancers
  • Migration of chemicals from food packaging

Some of these chemicals are hormone disruptors, including dioxins, many pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs, and some metals. Hormone disruptors, also called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, can be especially problematic for people with hormone-influenced cancers such as breast, prostate and uterine. Reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals by choosing foods that are grown or processed without them.

See Creating a Healing Environment.

Feeding Trillions: Your Microbiome

Many trillions of microorganisms live in and on us, many of which are in our gut―in fact, non-human microbe cells in our bodies outnumber our human cells. Over thousands of years, our bodies have developed a symbiotic relationship with these organisms, generally supporting each other’s health and well-being. In exchange for food and lodging, these microorganisms:73

  • Help with digestion and produce essential vitamins and minerals
  • Support intestinal wall integrity
  • Influence our sleep cycles and immune system
  • Signal to each other to affect functions
    • Metabolism
    • Inflammation system
    • Brain and nervous system
    • Immune system

Both direct and indirect effects of an out-of-balance microbiome can make our terrain (body) hospitable to cancer:74

  • Hyperinsulinemia
  • Obesity
  • Inflammation
  • Excess estrogen
  • Compromised immune function
  • Depression

Diet is important in supporting the health and balance of our microbiome. A Mediterranean diet provides substrates for your microorganisms to produce a number of products including short-chain fatty acids, which are beneficial to your health.75 Microorganisms in a person who eats a Western diet, however, produce end-products from fat and protein breakdown that are associated with arteriosclerosis and colon cancer.76

Changes in microbiota can happen quickly. For instance, shifting from a Mediterranean diet to a standard Western diet alters the microbiota in one day, and a diet high in sugar decreases necessary microbial diversity within one week.77

The connection between the microbiome and cancer is strong enough that the microbiome has been proposed as a screening tool for early stages of colorectal cancer.78 Early evidence shows that the pancreatic microbiome is substantially different in cancer patients and that antibiotic alteration of the pancreatic microbiome can slow disease progression in mice.79

Foods that nourish a healthy microbiome:

  • Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and kombucha may help replenish the gut with healthy microorganisms, although the evidence is mixed. Eating fermented foods is generally beneficial to health.80
  • Stronger evidence suggests that healthy microorganisms thrive on foods that are part of a healthy diet pattern, such as cruciferous vegetables and beans.81
  • Eating walnuts has altered gut bacteria and suppressed colon tumors in mice.82

Dr. Tina Kaczor concludes: “We are just beginning to define an optimal microbiome that will positively affect outcomes of chemotherapy or immunotherapies. Given the early data, it appears likely that commensal organisms [microbes] are integrally involved in a tumor’s response to many cancer treatments. In addition, bacterial diversity appears to be associated with better treatment response. . . A healthy omnivorous diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, along with exercise and proper sleep, may be the best, though less-than-precise, prescription to complement conventional therapies.”83

See Your Microbiome.

Integrative Oncology Programs for Eating Well

Most credible integrative oncology programs prescribe evidence-based dietary interventions in their patients’ treatment regimen. Some common elements in many or most of the prescribed diets:

  • Plant-based, whole-foods diets:
    • An emphasis on eating mostly food from plants, with or without small portions of quality animal or fish protein
    • Limiting processed and refined foods in favor of whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seed and fruits
  • Limiting red meat to occasional consumption, favoring pastured, grass-fed animal sources.

 

Include specific foods or increase the amount you consume:

  • Vegetables from the brassica family (especially broccoli and kale) and the allium family (especially garlic and onions) for their anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and chemopreventive effects.
  • Green tea based on evidence that it inhibits tumor proliferation especially in combination with chemotherapy
  • Naturally fermented and cultured foods that contain helpful live microorganisms (probiotics):84
    • Kefir
    • Kombucha
    • Sauerkraut
    • Pickles
    • Miso
    • Tempeh
    • Natto
    • Kimchi
    • Yogurt (unsweetened)

Other recommendations:

  • Time meals well, including eating dinner at least three hours before bedtime and increasing the time between dinner and breakfast to 13 hours or more.
  • Eat organically grown or raised foods when conventionally grown or raised varieties have high levels of harmful pesticides, fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics. See the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
  • Supplement with vitamins and minerals if you have a deficiency. Bear in mind that, as Dr. Keith Block reminds us, no amount of nutritional supplementation will help if the diet is unhealthy. Supplements enhance a healthy diet but cannot substitute for an unhealthy one.
  • Investigate different regimens used during active conventional treatment versus post-treatment maintenance.
  • Follow specific food, food preparation and eating guidelines for preventing or managing treatment side effects or cancer symptoms. Ginger tea is commonly recommended for preventing or alleviating nausea, for instance. See more in our discussion of side effects.
  • Adjust comfort foods to be healthier yet appealing: many people on pre-meds before chemotherapy (such as decadron) commonly describe having great appetite and energy after chemo treatment for about two days. After that, appetite and energy may wane, with a desire for nothing but simple comfort foods.
  • Limit these foods:
    • Cured meats
    • Highly processed foods
    • Sugar and other high glycemic-load foods such as refined grains
    • “Bad fats” such as partially hydrogenated oils and saturated fats
  • Limit alcohol or eliminate it entirely if you have cancer of the breastliver or head and neck.

 

Hydration

Maintaining optimal levels of fluid in your body has several positive outcomes:85

  1. Prevent the unpleasant and even dangerous symptoms of dehydration
  2. Enable your body to optimize digestion, hormone balance, immune system function, inflammation and other terrain factors
  3. Allow your body to flush toxins out
  4. Reduce treatment side effects, such as nausea, weakness, constipation and fatigue86
  5. Contribute to a general sense of well-being

For people with cancer, dehydration may cause your treatment to be delayed until you can be rehydrated, so staying hydrated is an important consideration in  your treatment.

Stay hydrated with water or unsweetened beverages (avoid caffeine and alcohol if you're at risk for dehydration).

Find out more about hydrating on our Dehydration and Hydration page.

Common and Popular Diets Used for Cancer

Plant-based Whole Foods Dietary Pattern

Dietary recommendations of integrative oncology clinicians tend to concentrate on a plant-based, whole foods pattern of eating. Vegetables hold the spotlight, especially dark leafy greens—such as kale and broccoli—and deep orange vegetables—such as sweet potatoes and winter squash. Eating just about any deeply-colored vegetable or fruit is encouraged. Taking in a “rainbow a day” of whole vegetables and fruits (as opposed to extracted juice) is a worthy, maybe life-saving goal!

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society both emphasize a plant-based diet (see the guidelines above). A Mediterranean diet, (described in detail in a separate summary: Mediterranean Diet) is recommended by integrative oncologists such as Dwight McKee, MD, and Lise Alschuler, ND. Other plant-based, whole foods diets are included in integrative cancer care programs such as Keith Block’s Life Over Cancer Core Diet Plan87 and Dean Ornish’s Lifestyle Medicine Program to reverse prostate cancer.

 

AICR Recommendations for Reducing Cancer Risk

The American Institute for Cancer Research makes these recommendations:88

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Limit sedentary habits.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
  4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
  5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
  6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women per day.
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
  8. Don't use supplements to protect against cancer. BCCT note: Don't use supplements as your only or even primary protection.
  9. It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods.
  10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for reducing cancer risk.

Access

Resources, information and guidance in eating a plant-based diet are widely available in books, on the Internet and from qualified clinicians. Many cancer centers, particularly those associated with medical centers, provide access to oncology dietitians. Usually this service is free to the center’s patients.

Access to quality plant-based foods may vary, depending on access to grocery stores and markets. Financial resources may factor into the affordability of ingredients and/or access to a space for food preparation. A number of metropolitan areas in the US have organizations providing free home-delivered balanced meals to eligible persons with cancer and sometimes their caregivers. Try searching “free meals for cancer patients” and the name of your city or location to see if this is an option.

The American Cancer Society makes this recommendation to reduce risk of cancer:89

Public, private, and community organizations should work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to develop, advocate for, and implement policy and environmental changes that increase access to affordable, nutritious foods; provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity; and limit alcohol for all individuals.

Cautions

In general, a plant-based diet is considered safe. However, adapt the diet to your needs, allergies and other medical conditions. For instance, a person with diarrhea from radiation damage to the colon may temporarily need to eat refined grains, such as white rice, rather than the brown rice typically recommended as part of a whole foods diet. Discuss diet with your doctor and determine if you need to make adjustments due to side effects, symptoms or health conditions.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

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