With nearly a quarter of a million new breast cancer cases each year, and prevalence of lung, colorectal, and gynecological cancers among American women, cancer prevention is a life-prolonging necessity. Well-known cancer preventions for women include screenings (pap tests, mammograms, colonoscopies), vaccines (i.e. HPV), smoking cessation, and skin protection from UV light.

But, did you know that diet and exercise could also help to reduce your cancer risk? These are modifiable changes—meaning that we have control over reducing our risk by eating healthy. Food choice, food processing techniques, and becoming aware about food safety have been recommended by the American Cancer Society to reduce cancer risk.

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Studies show that an emphasis on a plant-based diet is optimal for reducing cancer risk. Adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet will provide you with more vitamins and minerals, and help to maintain optimal nutritional status. Choosing antioxidant-rich foods, such as: berries (cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries), beans (red, black, pinto), apples (particularly Granny Smith, Gala and Red Delicious), artichokes, pecans and plums have also been shown to reduce cancer risk. Also, you can increase fiber intake by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

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As food processing increases, nutrient content decreases—so choosing whole grains versus refined grain products may help to reduce cancer risk. Limiting intake of processed meats is beneficial, as many processed meats are preserved with salt and sodium nitrates. Healthier processing methods include freezing and canning meats, fruits and vegetables. Charcoal grilling, or “charring” foods high in protein, such as meat or fish, creates carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds that stick to the meat. Such compounds can be mitigated or eliminated by cleaning the grill and removing charred debris before grilling, slightly cooking meat beforehand to reduce grill time, and by adding a marinade to meats and fish for protection.

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Buying foods that are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides can also reduce cancer risk. Typically, grocery store items (particularly meats and dairy products) are clearly marked as “antibiotic-free” or “hormone-free.” Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids and recommended for heart health—however, make sure to eat more fish with low mercury levels, and avoid fish with high mercury levels to reduce cancer risk. Examples of high-level mercury fish include swordfish, shark, and mackerel, whereas low-mercury fish/seafood include: scallops, salmon, clams, oysters, tilapia and catfish. Choose canned light tuna rather than canned white (albacore) tuna when possible.

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The American Cancer Society also recommends maintaining a healthy body weight (BMI<25) to reduce cancer risk. Recognizing proper food portions, appropriate calorie intake, and becoming physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight. Not only do healthy eating and exercising make you look and feel good, but life-long healthy choices help to reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases!

This is a guest post from Andi Mong. Andi has a B.A. in Philosophy from Transylvania University and a M.S. Nutritional Sciences degree from the University of Cincinnati. She loves to travel, go to the Farmer’s Market, do hot yoga, and spend time with her family and friends!