About 40 percent of cancers are due to avoidable lifestyle and diet choices, so what can you do to reduce your cancer risk? Have you tried changing your diet?
1. Focus primarily on a plant-based diet
Eating fruits and vegetables, preferably in their most natural state, can be a big boon to your system for preventing and even fighting cancer. The combination of fewer fats, more fiber and more cancer-fighting compounds make plants the best choice for your body's natural defenses to fight off cancer.
Cancer-fighting foods fight off cancerous cells in your body. Foods that are high in antioxidants, like superfoods, can be a big help to cell function. Eat a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables daily to ensure you get a variety of nutrients and antioxidants in your diet.
Drink plenty of water in order to help your body's systems function properly. Water helps remove toxins and waste and transports nutrients to your vital organs. And consider seasoning your food with immune-boosting spices. Curry powder, garlic and ginger all help fight cancer.
2. Reducing meat consumption lowers risk from unhealthy fats and carcinogens
Lowering your cancer risk doesn't mean you have to avoid meat altogether, being aware of your diet's plant content is important. If you're an avid meat-eater, consider taking baby steps to reducing your meat intake by participating in Meatless Mondays or going meatless on weekends.
Epidemiology research suggests that vegetarians are about 50 percent less likely to develop cancer. This is in part because of the cancer-fighting compounds in a plant-based diet. Also, high fat and low fiber meat-based diets are dangerous for the body's ability to fight cancer. Meat can also gain carcinogenic compounds from certain types of preparation.
When you choose to eat meat, make healthier choices by choosing organic, leaner meats like fish, chicken or turkey. Reduce or avoid red meat consumption since it's high in saturated fat. And you should definitely avoid processed meats like hot dogs and deli meat.
You can also reduce the amount of meat you consuming by using it sparingly in your entrees. Augment meat with beans or vegetables, such as in Chinese stir-fry or chili with a lot of beans and veggies.
Instead of unhealthy fats, choose good fats for your diet. Saturated fats should be reduced and trans fats should be avoided to limit cancer risk. Saturated fats are in whole milk dairy products, eggs and red meat. Trans fats are processed fats created by adding hydrogen to oil to make them more solid and less likely to spoil.
Plant-based fats, or unsaturated fats are the healthiest choice for cancer prevention. They include olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids also can help because they fight inflammation and support the health of your heart and brain. Good sources include walnuts, salmon and flax seeds.
3. Adding more fiber helps your digestive system purge carcinogens
Fibers and whole grains keep your digestive system healthy and running smoothly. A healthy digestive system pushes cancer-causing compounds out of your body quickly and efficiently.
You can increase your fiber by eating minimally processed foods: carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Make simple choices to increase your dietary fiber right away like using brown rice instead of white and eating vegetables with dip instead of chips.
4. Prepare food in a healthier way
Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Uncooked, unprocessed fruits and vegetables have the highest amount of nutrients. You also should try steaming vegetables instead of boiling, since boiling leaches some of the nutrients into the boiling water. If you do boil, retain the water for another use, like cooking rice or in lieu of broth. Overcooking vegetables also removes a lot of the nutrients, so be careful to keep vegetables from overcooking.
Be sure to choose organic produce whenever feasible and wash all of your fruits and vegetables to reduce any pesticide residue.
Be wary of carcinogens that can form during cooking or processing. Cured, dried, preserved and even smoked or charred meats can all potentially have carcinogens. There also are several ways you can prevent carcinogens in home cooking:
- Don't heat oils on high heat. Instead of deep-frying or sauteing, opt for steaming or baking.
- Avoid charring meats when barbecuing.
- Don't put plastics in the microwave, and always use microwave-safe containers, as plastics can release carcinogens.
- Store oils properly, in a cool, dry place. This can prevent them from becoming rancid and carcinogenic.
5. Avoid sugary and processed foods
Part of healthy food preparation is preparing food yourself rather than relying on processed foods. While sugary foods don't necessarily cause cancer directly, they can take up valuable space in your daily calorie allotment. Staying as lean as possible without being underweight is recommended for cancer prevention, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you waste calories on refined sugars, you won't be able to eat healthier cancer-fighting foods and maintain a healthy weight.
Processed foods are high in sodium and unhealthy fats, which can contribute to cancer. Additionally, the more processed a food is, the less likely it is to have cancer-fighting compounds. When you eat processed foods while avoiding healthier choices, you reduce your ability to manage cancer risk.
The most important part of any lifestyle or diet choice is being able to maintain it. So don't pressure yourself to eliminate every food with risk. The key is moderation of foods with risk and an effort to increase foods with cancer-fighting compounds. There's no way to eliminate all risk of cancer, but making healthy diet choices can reduce your risk and even help you fight cancer if you're undergoing treatment.
Follow Kristi on Twitter @veggieconverter.