You can reduce your chances of developing cancer and several chronic diseases by making healthy food choices. A diet rich in plant foods, whole grains and legumes can give your body the range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs to stay healthy.
Plus, eating a variety of healthy foods can help prevent weight gain and decrease body fat. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.
You can take the following steps to maintain a healthy diet, manage your weight and reduce your risk of cancer:
- Eat a plant-based diet. Eating a healthy diet can help you stay lean. Fill 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, whole grains and fruit. Fill the remaining 1/3 or less with lean animal protein like fish and chicken.
- Limit red meat. Red meat contains substances that have been linked to colorectal cancer. Pork, beef, lamb, deer and buffalo are all red meat. Aim to eat no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains are high in fiber, which can help you stay lean and lower your cancer risk.
- Avoid processed meat. Hotdogs, sausage, lunch meats and other processed meats contain cancer-causing substances, and eating these meats can damage your DNA, raising your colon cancer risks.
- Choose plant-based proteins. You can make healthy swaps that will add more plants to your diet without reducing your protein intake.
- Avoid alcohol. Research shows that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases your chances of developing oral, breast and liver cancers. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two drinks per day.
No food or food group can prevent cancer, and eliminating specific foods won’t eliminate your risk. But basing your diet on plants and following some basic guidelines can help you reduce your risk for cancer and several other chronic diseases.
BY Markham Heid
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and to lower your cancer risk. But finding your healthy weight in a chart and obsessively checking the number on the scale doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
When it comes to your weight, what matters is the amount of body fat you’re carrying around – and where.
“We used to think fat cells were just for storing energy,” says Erma Levy, clinical dietician in MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But fat cells are actually metabolically active. That means they produce hormones and other chemicals that affect your body’s immune system and its ability to fight off disease.”
A higher weight on the scale may indicate that you have more body fat than recommended. And, a higher percentage of body fat puts you at greater risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. “In particular, the fat around your waist can disrupt your hormones,” Levy says. This increases your chances of developing breast and uterine cancers.
Carrying too much extra weight also can put stress on your back and joints. This added pressure could leave you with aches and pains, causing you to be less active and gain more weight.
Luckily, you can take actions to manage your weight and reduce your body fat. Levy offers this advice.
Know what causes high body fat
Levy says a handful of factors can contribute to your weight:
- Your diet. In general, taking in more calories than your body burns will lead to weight gain.
- Your activity levels. The more you move, the more energy your body burns, and the more likely you can keep your weight within a healthy range.
- Your genes. Genetics plays a big role in your body shape as well as your metabolism, which is your body’s ability to burn calories.
- Your age. Your metabolism tends to slow down as you age, meaning it can be harder to stay trim as you grow older. Hormonal changes and lack of exercise also contribute to age-related weight gain.
- Your health. Some illnesses sap your energy, which can prevent you from staying physically active. Certain diseases and their accompanying medications also can lead to an increased appetite and greater body fat storage. Ask your doctor if your medical condition may be a factor.
Measure your body fat
“Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to find out your exact body-fat percentage without expensive tools or your doctor’s help,” Levy says. Your age and gender also are important factors for determining your target body fat range.
If you’re not willing to wait for your next physical, you can measure your waist circumference at home for a rough gauge of your disease risk, Levy says.
She also cautions against using only body mass index (BMI) to assess your health.
BMI is calculated using only two pieces of information: Your height and your weight. “This is overly simplistic and tends to overestimate body fat among athletes or muscular people, while underestimating body fat among the elderly or those with diseases,” Levy says. “Your best measure is your doctor.”
Take steps to slim down
Ready to get lean? “Focus on diet and exercise. Those are the two most important factors,” Levy says.
Exercise. Whether you’re running or gardening, lifting weights or brisk walking around your neighborhood, physical activity burns calories and fat to help you stay lean.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to reduce your chances for cancer.
Eat right. Levy recommends following these healthy diet rules:
- At mealtimes, fill half your plate with fruits and non-starchy vegetables to get the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help protect you from diseases like cancer. The fiber will help you feel full and avoid weight issues.
- Devote another quarter of your plate to lean protein like beans, lentils, baked fish, and skinless chicken or turkey. You’ll get important nutrients while helping you stay full.
- Limit starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and green peas, which can raise your blood sugar levels and trigger the storage of fat cells. If you’re going to eat these foods, choose colorful starches like sweet potatoes or yellow corn.
- Avoid processed grains like crackers, chips, cookies and breakfast cereals. They tend to be stripped of fiber. Instead, choose fiber-packed whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Don’t be discouraged if you fail to see results on your bathroom scale. “Even if your weight stays roughly the same, your body should feel healthier as your weight shifts away from your danger zones,” Levy says. “Plus, you’ll lower your disease risk, and raise your energy and mood levels.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.
Cancer Prevention Center
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool to help you determine if you are a healthy weight. Fill out the fields below to get your BMI.
|18 or less||Underweight|
|19 - 24||Healthy|
|25 - 29||Overweight|
Your BMI indicates that you are underweight. Talk to your doctor about ways to maintain a healthy weight. No matter what your weight is, eating a plant-based diet and staying physically active can reduce your risk for cancer.
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