The best advice for cancer prevention is to do what your mom always told you: Eat your fruit and vegetables, get some exercise and keep that weight in a healthful range, says Stephen Hursting, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Here are recommendations from nutrition experts for a balanced diet that will serve you well for avoiding a variety of diseases.
How to fill your plate
Eat lots of leafy, colorful fruit and vegetables. They’re full of antioxidants — substances that help repair cell damage and may help prevent some kinds of cancer. These foods also have anti-inflammatory components that might play a role in fighting cancer.
Red, orange and yellow pigments of an antioxidant class called carotenoids are thought to be particularly important and are found in such foods as carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers. Tomatoes have shown some benefits against prostate cancer, says Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Choose whole grains. These fiber-rich foods, such as brown rice and bulgur, are essential for a healthy gut and healthy gut bacteria. Gut bacteria and the digestive tract play an important role in the immune system, which may be implicated in some cancers, says Marian Neuhouser of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Whole-grain foods will help you feel full and avoid overeating that can lead to excess weight and obesity and related cancers.
Opt for lean protein. Find protein in foods such as nuts or beans and in fish or lean meats. Limit red meats. Avoid processed meats. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends aiming for a plate filled one-third or less with animal protein, two-thirds or more with fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Use unsaturated vegetable oils for food prep and cooking. While not identified as relating to cancer, these are good for fighting heart disease and diabetes, Willett says.
Eat low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
Limit alcohol. Whereas alcohol is thought to have some small positive effect against heart disease, the same is not true for cancer. Experts recommend moderation.
Be mindful of your pattern of eating over time and be aware of the size of your plate and portions.
Eat wisely away from home, too. When dining out, remember moderation — especially since most Americans now eat out almost half the time, Neuhouser says.
Limit empty calories. Consider sugary sodas or sports drinks on par with cupcakes. You wouldn’t eat a cupcake three times a day, every day or even three times a week, Neuhouser says. Empty calories point you toward overweight and obesity and related diseases including cancers.
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