Many diets come with a long list of nutritional dos and don’ts. To help keep things simple, start by looking at what foods you eat every day and then focus on how you plan on filling your plate.
The American Institute for Cancer Research’s New American Plate provides a model meal, with mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and less meat or animal protein.
“Watching how you set up your plate is easier to continue over time than a diet,” says Sarah Rafat, MD Anderson clinical dietitian. “It’s best to think of your diet and your health as a long term goal.”
How it works
“It’s all about maintaining a well-balanced diet,” Rafat says.
Aim for meals made up of 2/3 or more vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans. In other words, most of your plate should be filled with plant-based foods.
The remaining 1/3 or less of your meal can be made up of animal protein. But choose those wisely. Limit your consumption of red meat and processed meat.
“Studies show that a diet high in red or processed meat and lower in vegetables may cause certain types of cancer,” Rafat says.
Choosing healthy beverages are also important. If you enjoy a glass of milk with your meals, chose a lower fat milk option. This counts toward your 1/3 portion of animal protein. Soy milk will count as a plant-based option.
Follow these tips to help build a healthy plate.
Watching how you set up your plate is easier to continue over time than a diet.
Watch your portions. Whether you’re out to dinner or at home, make sure your portions don't contain more than one serving.
Use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate when eating. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal that you are full, so try putting your fork down and take a break between bites. Eating slowly will help you digest your food better and be more aware of when you are full. Reducing your portions makes a big difference in controlling your weight so that you can reduce your cancer risk.
Plan ahead. We all can easily make unhealthy food choices or overeat when we’re on the run. Having a plan will help you prepare for difficult situations and handle them more easily. So, plan ahead by carrying snack foods with you like carrots and hummus or an apple.
Visualize your plate. Get to know the New American Plate to make sure you’re including vegetables, grains, fruits, protein and dairy into your diet in the right proportions.
Reduce empty calories. Many foods and drinks are high in fat or sugar, and full of empty calories. It’s OK to treat yourself once in a while, but try not to make every meal a treat. Moderation and balance are best.
Get moving. Eating healthy and being physically active helps lower your cancer risk. So, get moving for your health. Whether you take the stairs, park farther away, or go for a long walk, you’ll feel better and your body will thank you.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.