A plant-based diet can reduce your cancer risk
Ideally we would all follow a diet that’s best for cancer prevention. A plant-based diet is proven to reduce your risk for this and other diseases. But it’s rare to find anyone who can always stick to only vegetables, whole grains and fruits with lean proteins like chicken, fish and beans.
We talked to our MD Anderson Employee Wellness Dietitian Lindsey Wohlford to find out which foods you should be sure to avoid. Wohlford says choose the foods for your cheat days carefully, and stay away from these five worst foods for cancer risk.
5 worst food groups for cancer
Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by salting, smoking or curing. They include bacon, hot dogs, beef jerky and deli meats like ham and pepperoni. Deli turkey slices are also off-limits.
Processed meats are risky because they contain preservatives like nitrates and nitrites. Both are linked to cancer. Nitrate-free meats are available, but they are not necessarily any better.
“The other issue with a lot of these processed meats is that they're heated to high temperatures, which can produce other cancer causing components,” says Wohlford. “A lot of them also contain quite a bit of sodium. And eating too much sodium is linked to stomach cancer.”
When your body processes alcohol, it releases a chemical called acetaldehyde. This chemical damages your DNA, which can cause your cells to start growing out of control. This is what creates tumors.
For cancer prevention, it’s best to not drink any alcohol.
Meat that is cooked at high heat, burnt or charred has been linked to cancer. That's because the high temperature creates chemicals called HCAs and PAHs, which are carcinogens.
When you're cooking animal protein, use low-heat methods like baking. You also can try moist heat methods like braising or stewing.
“These cooking methods do not raise the temperature high enough to char the meat and create those cancer-causing compounds,” Wohlford says.
Evidence suggests that drinking sugary drinks, like soda and fruit juice, leads to weight gain. And being overweight or obese increases your risk for several cancers.
“The issue here is that these drinks are so easily consumed and they are a lot of calories,” says Wohlford.
If your drinks are high in calories, it makes it much harder for you to achieve energy balance. That is when you take in the same amount of calories as you burn off in physical activity or exercise.
When you take in more calories than you burn off, it leads to weight gain.
Almost all diets will tell you to avoid processed foods and there is a good reason for that.
People who eat processed foods tend to eat as much as 500 more calories a day than people who eat freshly prepared meals.
This can be because these foods are high in calories. Or the foods are low in nutrients and not very satisfying, which means you eat more of them.
Any food that comes in a bag or box is generally processed. That includes chips and other snacks, frozen French fries or nuggets and fast food burgers. It also includes foods that can seem healthy like breakfast cereal and pasta sauce.
“Processed foods typically lead to weight gain, obesity and then there is that cancer link,” says Wohlford.
Maintain a healthy weight
Two out of every 10 cases of cancer are linked to excess body weight, alcohol use, poor diet or physical inactivity. That is almost as much as cigarette smoking.
If you want to reduce your risk for cancer, it is essential to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week and eat a plant-based diet.