Prevent 1.5 million premature cancer deaths worldwide per year by 2025. That’s one goal set by international cancer organizations for World Cancer Day (WCD). With this year’s WCD theme of cancer myths and facts, that got me thinking about what myth I would like to see abolished by 2025.
The myth that I think keeps us from doing what we need to do to prevent many cancer cases is this: Let’s find that one compound or supplement or nutrient or single food that’s the magic bullet for preventing or stopping cancer.
We crave an easy answer – whether for weight loss, for more energy or to prevent a chronic disease like cancer. And many are ready to take advantage with their relentless marketing of the latest “miracle,” whether an extract, supplement or exotic sounding food.
And new findings about cancer – both causes and cures – make headlines that are often presented more dramatically than the findings warrant. For example, vitamin C, beta-carotene and acai are substances that were enthusiastically promoted to prevent cancer without enough evidence.
Sure, the substance may well be important to health and play a role in keeping our cells and body healthy, but the science is showing more and more that vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals are beneficial as they act together – and within the context of a healthy lifestyle.
I am hopeful that researchers will continue to identify foods and compounds that do play a significant role in cancer prevention and survivorship, especially learning how individuals may respond in different ways to certain foods or overall dietart patterns. But for now, we can start with what we do know about foods and cancer prevention:
- Follow a plant-based diet. Follow our New American Plate way of eating.
- Eat more fiber containing foods like whole grains, beans and more. These foods can lower risk for colorectal cancer.
- Focus on non-starchy vegetables and fruits as these can reduce risk for oral, esophageal and stomach cancers.
- Avoid sugary beverages – they link to weight gain, overweight and obesity, which in turn link to seven cancers.
- Limit red meat (more than 18 oz per week) and avoid processed meat as these increase risk for colorectal cancer
- If you drink alcohol, limit to 1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men/day. Alcohol increases risk for 6 types of cancer.
Put it all together and the key to a healthy, cancer preventive diet is to focus on what you put on your plate meal after meal, day after day. It’s the common, unremarkable choices you make when you shop, prepare your meal or open the refrigerator or cupboard.
It’s also the choices you make about walking or taking the stairs and committing to get at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity.
The facts about lowering risk for cancer are simple: a mostly plant-based diet, move more everyday and getting to and staying a healthy weight. Simple but not easy – start where you are and commit to make one small change in your life that moves you toward a healthier lifestyle. Let us know what you’re doing.