Cancer. It’s a dreaded diagnosis that more than one million people in the United States get every year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Treatment has improved and thankfully, many people survive. But, are there steps you can take to improve your chances of avoiding the disease in the first place?
Experts, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Health Coach, Sarah Micallef, say yes.
“The good news is that two-thirds of the cancers we know about are avoidable,” said Micallef at a recent presentation to employees. She’s a registered dietician with ten years of experience.
Some cancers are unavoidable, but one-third of cancers can be prevented by giving up or never starting tobacco and another third can be avoided through lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise.
“We can battle cancer, we can fight back,” Micallef said.
Here are her tips on what to eat and how to get more good stuff in your diet, as well as other lifestyle tips. All are aligned with American Cancer Society guidelines.
Eat more plants: We know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. Recommendations call for 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day, but Micallef said in this case, more is more.
“I challenge you to see if you can get beyond that as well,” she said.
Here are her favorite ways to sneak more in:
- Add veggies to family-friendly meals such as pizza, pasta, mac and cheese, and casseroles.
- Load smoothies up with fruit and vegetables such as spinach or kale, even carrots.
- Add onions, mushrooms, and peppers to ground meat or hash browns for breakfast.
- Top whole-grain pancakes or waffles with fruit instead of syrup.
- Grill fresh peaches and pineapple in the summer (or on an indoor grill).
Choose whole grains: Avoid white rice and products made with refined flour. Opt for brown or wild rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, whole grain flour, whole grain cornmeal, graham flour, millet, whole rye, oatmeal, and whole oats. Limit meat and switch to alternative protein sources: Eating red meat, such as pork, beef, and lamb, and processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage increase your risk for certain types of cancer. If you can’t live without meat, switch to sources such as chicken, turkey, and fish. Eggs and low-fat dairy are also good sources of protein. Adding more plant-based sources is also a smart move. Try dry beans, peas, soy, tofu, tempeh, lentils, nut butters, and quinoa. Micallef said she’ll sometimes substitute beans or lentils for half the called-for meat in a recipe. Try it in soup or casserole recipes and you likely won’t miss the meat!
Limit alcohol consumption: One drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men is what’s recommended as a cancer-curbing imbibing level. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, about eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of table wine, and one and a half ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Micallef said some evidence supports adding a glass of wine per day for heart health, but she said if you don’t currently drink, there’s no reason to start.
More ways to curb your cancer risk. Other healthy standards and behaviors can help reduce your odds of developing cancer.
- Watch your weight: Strive for a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25.
- Work out: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense activity every week. Exercise is linked to a lowered risk for colon, prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers. Things like gardening and cleaning the house count toward your moderate activity numbers.
- Move at work: If you have a sedentary job, you might want to incorporate activity into your work day. Studies comparing people who sat for two to three hours at a stretch to those who sat for prolonged six-hour or longer periods showed those who sat for longer stretches had a higher mortality risk – two times the risk for women and one and a half times the risk for men. Try to break up time at your desk. Conduct walking meetings or set a timer to force yourself to get up every hour or so and go for a quick walk.
Micallef recommended visiting the American Cancer Society’s website, Cancer.org for more information about cancer prevention and treatment. She said FruitsandVeggiesMoreMatters.org and ChooseMyPlate.gov are great resources for recipe ideas that help you add more cancer-fighting produce to your plate.