A good diet is about fueling your body, eating real food and limiting processed foods. Good nutrition plays a crucial role in our well-being by helping maintain a healthy weight, and improving our immune system to prevent disease. In fact, nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention are similar to those for preventing other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
What do I mean by “real food”? Although some people have a stricter definition of it, I think a realistic goal is to eat foods that are as close as possible to their natural state, such as whole grains instead of processed white flour. Avoid packaged foods with a long list of unfamiliar ingredients. As a registered dietitian, I recommend eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes like beans. Select a variety of whole foods naturally rich in nutrients. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts are particularly good to eat as are tomatoes, berries, beets, peppers, apples, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes.
Strive for two thirds of your plate to consist of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. The remaining one third of each plate should consist of lean high-protein foods such as fish, tofu, beans, or lean meats. No single food is the perfect one for cancer prevention, but a combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals can offer good protection according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
Make better choices when including fat in your diet. Consume monounsaturated fats, avoid saturated and trans fats. Monounsaturated fats (plant based) include olives, olive oil, canola and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids and have an anti-inflammatory and blood thinning effect. Good sources are salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, walnuts and flax.
Avoiding foods that are bad for your heart can also help reduce cancer risk. Stay away from foods that are salted, cured, processed or smoked. Instead, choose lean animal products including chicken, fish, turkey and red meat cuts such as sirloin or loin. Limit refined carbohydrates and sweetened drinks. Both increase chances of being overweight and offer little nutritional value. Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods rather than salt we add as a seasoning. Read food labels to learn exactly how much sodium is in a product. Everyone should reduce their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (about 1 teaspoon of salt).
The way in which you prepare your food can also make a difference in your overall health. Baking, broiling, microwaving, and poaching are preferable to grilling, frying, and charbroiling. If you enjoy the flavor of foods off the grill, try baking or broiling them first then put them on the grill briefly before serving.
Fueling your body with real food, limiting processed foods and beverages, and getting regular exercise will go a long way toward preventing cancer and heart disease, the top two causes of death in the United States.
Author: Tiffany Barrett, MS, RD, CSO, LD, Nutrition Specialist, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
About Tiffany Barrett
Tiffany is a Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and completed a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. At Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, her role is to provide nutrition assessments and education for oncology patients and families during and after treatment. Tiffany graduated from Florida State University with Bachelor of Science and completed a dietetic internship at the University of North Florida combined with a Master of Science.