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New Guidelines to Reduce Cancer Risk

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

July 7, 2020

The CA Journal of Cancer published a startling study linking cancer deaths in the United States to lifestyle choices. According to the study, approximately 42% of cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in the United States are related to risk factors, including excess weight, poor diet, and physical inactivity. The good news is, these are all factors that we can manage by changing our behaviors.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently updated their guidelines to reflect the information presented in this study and other similar studies. These updated guidelines about diet, physical activity, and cancer prevention is the first published by the ACS since 2012. The guidelines highlight physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and strongly recommends to focus on eating nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The report also calls for community initiatives and public policies to increase access to healthy foods. Below is a summary of the guidelines. You can click on each heading to take you to the full ACS description of the new guideline:

Staying at a healthy weight

The dietetic guidelines recommend getting to and maintaining a healthy weight and waist size to avoid the harmful effects of hormones like insulin and estrogen, inflammation and oxidative stress. If you are overweight or obese, losing even a few pounds can lower your risk for some types of cancer. The guidelines also recommend limiting sedentary behavior, such as sitting, lying down, watching television and other forms of screen-based entertainment

Staying active throughout life

According to new research published in JAMA, being physically active is a key lifestyle behavior associated with reductions in the risk of getting cancer as well as the risk of death from cancer. Therefore, aiming for 300 minutes or more of physical activity per week will “give you the most health benefits.” According to ACS, adults should aim for a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or a combination. According to the new guidelines, children and teens should get at least one hour of moderate or vigorous-intensity exercise each day and limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.

Following a healthy eating pattern

No single food or even food group can reduce your cancer risk; it is your whole eating pattern that can make the difference. Try to aim for a whole food plant-based diet that includes minimum processed foods (precut, chopped, frozen, etc.), a broad variety of vegetables (dark green, red and orange), fruits (especially whole fruits in a variety of colors), fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and plenty of whole grains. For some ideas, visit our website.

The ACS guidelines suggest to avoid or limit red meats (such as beef, pork, and lamb), processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, and hot dogs), sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products (such as white pasta, white bread).

Avoiding or limiting alcohol

When alcohol is metabolized in the body, it produces acetaldehyde, which is a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compound, and free radicals that can damage your DNA. The more you drink, the higher the risk of developing cancers related to alcohol intake. Some of these include estrogen receptor-positive ER+ breast cancer (the most common form of breast cancer), cancers in mouth, pharynx, esophagus, colon, and liver. There have been some controversies about alcohol intake and its potential benefits for cardiovascular health. However, when it comes to cancer prevention, it is best not to drink alcohol. If you do, the guidelines suggest no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Note that alcohol can promote weight gain, and excess weight and weight gain increase the risk of at least 12 forms of cancer.

In summary, the new guidelines suggest to watch what and how much you eat, maintaining a healthy weight, prefer minimally processed whole foods, focus on plant foods, engage in regular physical activity, limit your sedentary time, and avoid alcohol when possible.

The recipe of the week comes via, and it is a great addition to our summer dinners as a salsa with baked chips, or as a topping for chicken or fish:

Mango Salsa

3 cups mango finely diced

1/3 cup red onion minced

1 jalapeno seeds and ribs removed, then minced

1 red bell pepper cored, seeded and finely diced

1/2 cup cilantro leaves chopped

2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt to taste

Place the mango, red onion, jalapeno, bell pepper, and cilantro in a bowl.

Stir in the lime juice and salt.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for later use.

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