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Food for thought: A diet review

Focused on Health - January 2014

Losing body fat can help reduce your cancer risks. weight loss

But beware: not just any diet plan will give your body the nutrients it needs to fight diseases like cancer. So, how do you choose the right diet?

“First, you have to understand your current diet patterns before establishing a path for your future,” says Clare McKindley, a clinical dietitian at MD Anderson.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you eat one large meal a day or several small meals throughout the day?
  • How much time do you have to plan your meals? If you’re often short on time, do you get fast food?
  • Do you feel you’re lacking nutrition or do you feel confident you’re eating a balanced diet?
  • What relationship do you have with your food and the environment you’re in when you’re eating your food?
  • What is your goal?

Then, use your answers to the above questions when reviewing different diet plans. 

Also, consider how much you will have to work to adhere to the diet. “If the diet is too restrictive, you’re at risk for ‘falling off’, becoming bored with the menu choices or being fearful of certain foods,” McKindley says.

To help you get started we review a few popular diets. 

Good nutrition is not a fast fixdiet salad

Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean-style diet encourages people to make a life-long commitment to good nutrition. This diet also meets many of the dietary guidelines used for preventing cancer and heart disease.

The Whole-Body Approach
This type of diet focuses on eating six to seven small meals each day, instead of the standard three large meals. It also offers cancer prevention benefits.

Crash diets lead to crash endings

“Trendy” usually means the latest fad, and fads are temporary. So, if you hear a diet described as “trendy,” that’s usually a trigger to evaluate the diet more cautiously and consider consulting a registered dietitian.

And, be cautious of diets that promise rapid results. Losing more than two pounds a week indicates you are losing muscle mass and/or dehydrated.

Gluten-free
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. When you go gluten-free, you may limit your intake of important B-vitamins, iron and fiber. If you are gluten intolerant due to celiac disease, there are other whole grains you can select to reduce your risk for nutrient deficiency.

Here’s why: whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They protect our cells from damage that may lead to cancer.

Carbohydrate-freediet plans
Research is inconclusive on the health and weight loss benefits of long-term use of a carbohydrate-free diet. And, there is a risk of limiting cancer-fighting foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.

Consider being more selective with the kinds of carbohydrates you are eating. Pick fresh fruit rather than cookies or other foods made with refined grains and sugars.

Add essential ingredients to your diet

McKindley shares the ingredients for a diet to help reduce your cancer risks: 

  1. Plant-based foods as a big part of every meal
    1. 50% of your plate from vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and spinach
    2. 25% of your plate from starches like legumes, wholes grains and beans
    3. 25% of your plate from lean animal proteins, or plant-based proteins
  2. Animal proteins like fish, chicken or turkey (limit red meat to 18 oz. or less each week)
  3. A meal or snack every four to six hours
  4. Sodium content is no more than 2,400 milligrams per day
    1.  The use of herbs and spices for flavoring instead of salt
  5. Fats from nuts, seeds and plant-based oils
  6. Sugar intake is less than 15% of total calorie intake
  7. A positive relationship with food – eat for nourishment more often than  for comfort
  8. Daily physical activity

Moderation is the secret to success

Maintaining a healthy weight requires life-long healthy habits. And, the secret to long-term success is moderation and daily action.

So, talk to your dietitian about a nutrition plan that builds the foundation of healthy habits for you. And, find ways to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

Then, stick to it! Your body will thank you.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center