To lower your cancer risk, vegetables and whole grains should be on your menu and processed and red meat should be off, according to updated guidelines published Tuesday by the American Cancer Society.
It’s best not to drink alcohol, the group says in its updated guidelines, and people should be getting more exercise than previously recommended.
The American Cancer Society periodically reviews the science related to diet, exercise and cancer, and updates its guidelines accordingly.
A good diet and regular exercise is important, in part, because it can help people maintain a healthy weight. Scientists are seeing more connections between cancer and weight. The World Cancer Research Fund most recent report lists 12 cancers associated with being overweight or obese – five more cancers than the last report published from the association a decade ago.
Diets that seem to lower cancer risk are heavy on vegetables that are dark green, red and orange. Beans and peas are also supposed to lower cancer risk. Whole fruit, rather than canned or in juice form is preferred. Whole grains are better than refined flour.
Foods to avoid or limit include processed meats or red meats, like steak. Don’t drink sugar sodas and juice with added sugar. Try to avoid all processed foods.
It’s also best not to drink alcohol, the guidelines say, but if you do drink, women need to keep it to one a day, men to two.
“There is no one food or even food group that is adequate to achieve a significant reduction in cancer risk,” Laura Makaroff, the American Cancer Society senior vice president for prevention and early detection, said in a statement. “Current and evolving scientific evidence supports a shift away from a nutrient-centric approach to a more holistic concept of dietary patterns. People eat whole foods – not nutrients – and evidence continues to suggest that it is healthy dietary patterns that are associated with reduced risk for cancer, especially colorectal and breast cancer.”
The guidelines also say you’ll also want to exercise more.
The updated guidelines increase the recommended amount of exercise you need a week from 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise to 150 to 300 minutes.
If you are more of a runner, then they’ve upped that amount of exercise you need too, from 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity to encouraging you to get between 75 and 150 minutes.
More than 300 minutes of either is optimal, the guidelines say.
The guidelines encourage local communities to make these healthy lifestyle goals possible, suggesting they create spaces for people to get out and exercise and make affordable and nutritious food easily available.
Shifting from nutrients to whole foods
Lisa Drayer, an award winning nutritionist and author and CNN health and nutrition contributor, said these guideline updates reflect the latest science.
“These updated guidelines reinforce what scientific research has been revealing – that eating a nutrient-rich diet, being physically active, and limiting alcohol is associated with a reduced overall cancer risk, including lower risk for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer risk,” said Drayer.
“It’s also important to point out that the various contributions of a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to be more significant in decreasing cancer risk than any single dietary recommendation – something nutritionists have been saying for years,” Drayer said.
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For example, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables may deliver a healthy dose of antioxidants that could potentially help prevent oxidative damage to DNA caused by red meat and processed meat, as well as smoking, pollution and UV radiation, she said.
Fiber rich foods may help protect against colorectal cancer, she said. That means you can make some easy swaps to help your health. Instead of regular pasta or white rice, try brown rice or lentil pasta or chickpea pasta, Drayer suggests. As far as the exercise recommendations, she says, that can be fun too.
“Being active doesn’t have to mean engaging in a high intensity workout each day,” Drayer said. “Talking a walk, going on a family bike ride, dancing or doing yoga all count.”