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Diet and cancer

Fiber and cancer; Cancer and fiber; Nitrates and cancer; Cancer and nitrates

Diet can have an impact on your risk of developing many types of cancer. You can reduce your overall risk by following a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Information

DIET AND BREAST CANCER

The link between nutrition and breast cancer has been well studied. To reduce risk of breast cancer the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that you:

  • Get regular physical activity of moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day 5 times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than 2 drinks/day for men; 1 drink/day for women. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces (360 milliliters) beer, 1 ounce (30 milliliters) spirits, or 4 ounces (120 milliliters) wine.

Other things to consider:

  • Data on the role of high soy intake (in the form of supplements) is inconclusive regarding hormone-sensitive cancers in women. Consuming a diet that contains moderate amounts of soy foods before adulthood may be beneficial.
  • Breastfeeding may reduce a mother's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

DIET AND PROSTATE CANCER

The ACS recommends the following lifestyle choices to reduce prostate cancer risk:

  • Get regular physical activity of moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day five times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than 2 drinks/day for men. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces (360 milliliters) beer, 1 ounce (30 milliliters) spirits, or 4 ounces (120 milliliters) wine.

Other things to consider:

  • Your health care provider may suggest that men limit their use of calcium supplements and not exceed the recommended amount of calcium from foods and beverages.

DIET AND COLON OR RECTAL CANCER

The ACS recommends the following to reduce colorectal cancer risk:

  • Limit intake of red and processed meat. Avoid charbroiling meat.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily. Broccoli may be particularly beneficial.
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption.
  • Eat recommended amounts of calcium and get enough Vitamin D.
  • Eat more omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts) than omega-6 fatty acids (corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil).
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life. Avoid obesity and buildup of belly fat.
  • Any activity is beneficial but vigorous activity might have an even greater benefit. Increasing the intensity and amount of your physical activity may help reduce your risk.
  • Get regular colorectal screenings based on your age and health history.

DIET AND STOMACH OR ESOPHAGEAL CANCER

The ACS recommends the following lifestyle choices to reduce stomach and esophageal cancer risk:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Lower your intake of processed meats, smoked, nitrite-cured, and salt-preserved foods; emphasize plant-based proteins.
  • Get regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day 5 times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CANCER PREVENTION

The American Institute for Cancer Research's 10 recommendations for cancer prevention include:

  • Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods. (Artificial sweeteners in moderate amounts have not been shown to cause cancer.)
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.
  • Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
  • If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2/day for men and 1/day for women a day.
  • Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
  • DO NOT use supplements to protect against cancer.
  • It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
  • After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

RESOURCES

References

Basen-Engquist K, Brown P, Coletta AM, Savage M, Maresso KC, Hawk E. Lifestyle and cancer prevention. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 22.

Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC. Environmental and nutritional diseases. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC, eds. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 9.

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al; American Cancer Society 2010 Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(1):30-67. PMID: 22237782 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22237782/.

National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute website. SEER training modules, cancer risk factors. training.seer.cancer.gov/disease/cancer/risk.html. Accessed August 11, 2021.

US Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/ScientificReport_of_the_2020DietaryGuidelinesAdvisoryCommittee_first-print.pdf. Updated June 30, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2021.

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Published December 2015. Accessed August 11, 2021.

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      Review Date: 6/8/2021

      Reviewed By: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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