This year, half a million Americans will lose their lives to cancer, and more than 1.6 million men and women will be diagnosed with the illness. During Cancer Control Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds Americans that eating right can help you prevent cancer and even support your treatment if you've already been diagnosed.
"Whether you, a parent, friend or a child has been diagnosed, chances are, your life has been touched by cancer," says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy President Ethan Bergman. "While cancer can leave us feeling helpless, the good news is there are measures you can take to prevent the disease. Your diet is one of the most important factors under your control."
According to Bergman, a healthful eating plan can lower your risk for developing cancer. And if you have been diagnosed, eating well can positively support treatment and help you live well after treatment.
"In fact, we're just now beginning to realize how diet can affect disease prevention for not only cancer, but also heart attacks, Type 2 diabetes and strokes and deaths from cardiovascular disease," Bergman says.
While more research is needed on the precise mechanisms, Bergman says you can help reduce your cancer risk through eating right:
• Maintaining a healthy weight is key to reducing your risk of cancer and other diseases. The connection between cancer and obesity varies widely for different cancer types, but is as high as 40 percent for some cancers, particularly breast, colon and endometrial cancers.
• Eat fewer foods that are high in calories and fat and low in nutrients. Foods with added sugars and fats can cause weight gain and leave little room for more healthy, cancer-preventing foods.
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables which are linked with a lower risk of certain cancers. Fill half your plate each meal with a variety of colorful and naturally nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
• Limit alcohol. Evidence suggests all types of alcoholic drinks may increase your risk of a number of cancers, including mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophageal, liver, breast, colon and rectal. It's unclear exactly how alcohol affects cancer risk. It is considered more harmful when combined with smoking. If you drink at all, limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men.
"Consult your physician to see if you are at risk for developing cancer, and work with a registered dietitian to build a healthful eating plan tailored to your needs, lifestyle and medical concerns," Bergman says.