Studies show that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of certain cancers. It can also help prevent other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease. One of the benefits of good nutrition is that it helps you maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight or obese are at risk for more health problems. In general, a high-fiber, low-fat diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight and maintain it.
The road to better health
Can some dietary choices reduce the risk of cancer?
There are ongoing studies on diet and health. Researchers continue to investigate whether certain foods and nutrients can reduce the risk of cancer. The results are inconsistent and vary from person to person. The following things may help.
- Fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer of the lungs, mouth, esophagus, stomach and colon.
- The Mediterranean diet can protect against cancer. This diet focuses on foods such as fish, fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains.
- Calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Folic acid can protect against cancer.
What specific things can I do to improve my diet?
You can reduce the risk of health problems by eating a healthy and balanced diet. This includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts and seeds. For protein, eat moderate amounts of fish, poultry, lean meats and low-fat or low-fat dairy products.
Some fats should be part of a healthy diet. They can reduce the risk of disease. “Good” fats can help lower total cholesterol. “Good” fats include the following:
- Monounsaturated fats: It is found in rapeseed, olive, avocado, peanut and other nuts. It is also found in legumes, olives, seeds, nuts, nut oil and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated fats: It is found in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower and saffron. It is also found in corn, soybeans and cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: It is found in “oily” fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. It is also found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are especially good for your health.
You need to avoid or limit “bad” fats. These include trans and saturated fats. They are found in fast food, fried foods, snacks and baked goods. “Bad” fats can raise your total cholesterol.
What are phytochemicals?
Phytochemicals are substances found in plant-based foods. Some experts believe they can reduce the risk of cancer. They can also contribute to bone, heart and brain health. Common types of phytochemicals are vitamin C and folic acid. Less common species are isoflavones, flavonoids, phytosterols and others. Good sources of phytochemicals include:
- green peas;
- whole grains;
Aspects to be considered
Should I take herbs or supplements?
It’s easy to get excited about claims that the latest dietary supplement will prevent or cure cancer. However, these marketing claims are unlikely to be proven. There is no evidence that multivitamins can help reduce the risk of cancer. Talk to your doctor before adding herbs or supplements to your diet. Extreme changes in your diet can put you at risk for new health problems.
The United States Working Group on Preventive Services (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend not taking vitamin E or beta-carotene to prevent cancer. People who smoke or are at high risk for lung cancer should not take beta-carotene at all. May increase the risk of lung cancer.
What foods can increase the risk of cancer?
Although there is no clear evidence that some foods prevent cancer, research shows that they can increase the risk of cancer. They include:
- highly processed meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, salami and bologna. They can increase the risk of colorectal cancer if you eat them too often.
- Foods high in saturated fat can contribute to weight gain. Being overweight increases the risk of many cancers.
- Alcohol may increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast and colorectal cancer. Men should not drink more than 2 drinks a day. Women should not drink more than 1 drink a day. One drink is a bottle of 12 ounce beer (4.5% alcohol), a 5 ounce glass of wine (12.9% alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with 80 doses.
When to see a doctor
Talk to your doctor if you think you are at risk for cancer or other health problems. He or she may make dietary recommendations or refer you to a dietitian.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What types of foods should I eat to reduce my risk of cancer?
- What types of foods should I avoid to reduce my risk of cancer?
- Are there any herbs or supplements I should take?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides an overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.
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