What can I do to reduce my risk of developing cancer?

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What can I do to reduce my risk of developing cancer?

October 12, 2011

healthy fruits and vegetablesAlthough a cure for cancer is still beyond our reach, we have the ability to make changes to help reduce our risk of certain cancers as well as other diseases.

The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that up to one-third of all cancers can be prevented if we eat a nutrient-rich diet, maintain a healthy weight and participate in a minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise. However, as we approach the winter season, our attitudes towards exercise and eating healthy may begin to change.  Starchy, comfort foods coupled with less activity due to inclement weather or busy holiday time constraints often contribute to the average 10-15 pound weight gain we see between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yet the same premise for holiday weight management is the same for lowering one’s risk of cancer.  Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Focusing on fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Including beans and other fiber rich plant foods
  • Limiting saturated fats
  • Avoiding processed meats

The focus on plant-based nutrients gave rise to what we call phytochemicals or phytonutrients (from the Greek phyto or plant), meaning a substance naturally occurring in plants. These plant-based nutrients pack a one-two punch against cancer as well as other diseases through several widely believed physiological mechanisms:

  • Slow the cancer cell proliferation and growth rate
  • Stimulation of the immune system response
  • Prevention of DNA damage that can lead to cancer initially through their antioxidant properties

A Word on Antioxidants

Many phytonutrients are antioxidants, which are simply compounds within food that protect our cells from oxidative damage and stress. This protective measure is key in preventing changes to our immune system over time, which can lead to cancer and other diseases.

A perfect example of how an antioxidant works is to think of what happens when you cut into an apple. Within about 30 minutes, that apple slice will begin to turn brown from oxidation. However, if you squeeze on a bit of lemon juice immediately after an apple is sliced, the Vitamin C contained in that juice acts as an antioxidant preventing the apple from oxidizing and consequently, turning discolored.

Just as certain foods need antioxidant protection, so do our bodies.  Choosing foods higher in phytonutrients can help to ensure we stay healthy.

Suggestions for Increasing Your Phytonutrients

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Whole grain cereals

Vegetable bean soup

Stir-fry dishes

Veggie omelet

Whole grain bread sandwiches

Lean cuts of meat and fish

Whole wheat toast served with nut butter

Mixed garden salads served alongside frozen entrées. 

Fresh fruit desserts

 

A healthy, balanced diet is only one part of the equation that introduces antioxidants into our bodies to help prevent cancer. Environmental factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, exposure to pollution, and even the process of aging contribute to the rate of oxidation. The challenge is to manage the areas most under our control, such as diet and exercise, which will reduce our risks of cancer and provide our bodies with the nutritional strength to fight back should we develop the disease.

For more information on reducing your risk of cancer nutritionally visit the American Dietetic Association website. And for exercise ideas, check out ACE's exercise library.

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