Oct. 28, 2008 -- Looking for ways to cut your risk of developing cancer? Here's a list of 10 diet and activity recommendations highlighted this week in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Avoid sugary drinks, and limit consumption of high-calorie foods, especially those low in fiber and rich in fat or added sugar.
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (such as beans).
- Limit consumption of red meats (including beef, pork, and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
- If you drink alcohol, limit your daily intake to two drinks for men and one drink for women.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and food processed with salt (sodium).
- Don't use supplements to try to protect against cancer.
- It's best for mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods.
- After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.
At the ADA meeting, experts provided practical tips for following those recommendations, which were issued last year by the nonprofit American Institute for Cancer Research and its sister organization, the World Cancer Research Fund International.
Why These Cancer Recommendations?
Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, an epidemiology professor who leads the nutrition department the Harvard School of Public Health, was on the international team of scientists that wrote the recommendations.
At the ADA meeting, Willett said the first recommendation -- to be as lean as possible within the healthy weight range -- is "the most important, by far."
But there is one recommendation that Willett says may be a "mistake" -- the one about not taking supplements. Vitamin D supplements may lower risk of colorectal cancer and perhaps other cancers, notes Willett. He predicts that that recommendation will be a top priority for review.
How to Follow the Recommendations
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, is the nutritional advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research. She reviewed the recommendations before they were issued last year, and she joined Willett in talking to ADA members.
Collins provides these tips for each of the recommendations:
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight: Don't just look at the scale; check your waist measurement as a crude measurement of your abdominal fat, Collins says. She recommends that men's waists be no larger than 37 inches and women's waists be 31.5 inches or less.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day: You can break that into 10- to 15-minute blocks, and even more activity may be better, notes Collins.
- Avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods: It's not that those foods directly cause cancer, but they could blow your calorie budget if you often overindulge, notes Collins, who suggests filling up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans: Go for a variety of colors (like deep greens of spinach, deep blues of blueberries, whites of onions and garlic, and so on). Most Americans, says Collins, are stuck in a rut of eating the same three vegetables over and over.
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women per day: Watch your portion size; drinks are often poured liberally, notes Collins. Willett adds that the pros and cons of moderate drinking is something that women may particularly need to consider, weighing the heart benefits and increased breast cancer risk from drinking.
- Limit red meats (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meats: Limit red meats to 18 ounces per week, says Collins, who suggests using chicken, seafood, or legumes in place of red meat. Collins isn't saying to never eat red meat, just do so in moderation.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with sodium: Don't go over 2,400 milligrams per day, and use herbs and spices instead, says Collins. She adds that processed foods account for most sodium intake nowadays -- not salt you add when cooking or eating.
- Don't use supplements to protect against cancer: It's not that supplements are bad -- they may be "valuable" apart from cancer prevention, but there isn't evidence that they protect against cancer, except for vitamin D, says Collins.
- It's best for mothers to breastfeed babies exclusively for up to six months and then add other foods and liquids: Hospitals could encourage this more, Collins says.
- After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. Survivors include people undergoing cancer treatment, as well as people who have finished their cancer treatment.
Making Cancer Prevention Simpler
Overwhelmed? Collins boiled the 10 recommendations down to these three:
- Choose mostly plant foods. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.
- Be physically active every day in any way for 30 minutes or more.
- Aim to be a healthy weight throughout life.
Keep in mind that these tips are about reducing -- but not eliminating -- cancer risk. Many factors, including genes and environmental factors, affect cancer risk; diet and exercise aren't the whole story, but they're within your power to change.