If you knew that you could significantly lower your risk of getting cancer, you’d probably jump at the opportunity. Cancer is one of most common causes of death in modern America, so lowering your personal risk of a diagnosis is likely of interest. Thankfully, there are ways to do it — and it’s as easy as tweaking your diet. But how do you start? A recent project from Environmental Working Group, partnering with researchers from the Halifax Project, is packed with ideas. Specifically, the project looks at the way our diet can influence our cancer risk — be it today, or several years down the road.
From EWG’s project, here are 10 guidelines you can use to fix your diet and lower your cancer risk.
1. Dump processed meats
Perhaps the easiest overhaul you can make to your diet is to dump processed meats. Easy, that is, in theory. But doing it, and sticking to the decision, can be a challenge. We’ve written about this before: Red and processed meats are associated with higher rates of cancer. If you want to ease into the transition, start by cutting out the biggest offenders — sausages, bacon, hot dogs, and cold cuts.
2. Eat more of these veggies
You’ve been told your whole life that you need to eat more vegetables. And it’s true — fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins and minerals and can help build your defenses and immune system. “Fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods contain many different nutrients, phytochemicals and other compounds that may make cancer less likely to develop,” EWG’s report says.
3. Try a Mediterranean diet
The report specifically names the Mediterranean diet as one that has cancer-fighting advantages. “Mediterranean diets, and other diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, are linked to a decreased risk of developing a long list of cancers. This includes colorectal, liver, lung, pancreas, and head and neck cancers.”
Compare that to the standard American diets, which are loaded with processed meats and “have been associated with increased risks of lung, colorectal, gastric and other digestive system cancers.”
4. Abandon your childhood habits
Just because you grew up eating it doesn’t mean you should as an adult. As you get older, your body’s nutritional requirements change. And your eating habits need to adapt. Perhaps the easiest way you can change your diet is by dumping sugar. That can be done in a number of ways — cutting out soda, sugary cereals, sweetened coffees, and more. It may be harder than it sounds, but like processed meats, sugar consumption has many downsides.
5. Stop when you’re full
Several types of cancer are linked to obesity. We gain weight when we consume more energy than we burn off. Or, put another way, overeat. The simplest way to prevent overeating is to stop once we’re full. You don’t always need to clear your plate, for instance, or go for seconds. Figure out how many calories you should be consuming daily, and stick to some parameters.
Don’t get too locked into specific foods. Your body needs different resources from different things, so be sure your diet is varied. “It’s important to remember, no food or nutrient will either cause or prevent all cancers. Instead, we need to weigh the entirety of evidence,” the report says.
“Foods are complex and we don’t eat nutrients in isolation, so focusing on individual foods or nutrients may not be the best approach.”
7. Don’t spring for supplements
Many people use supplements, which is perfectly fine. But you don’t want to rely on them too much. Instead, try to eat foods that contain the nutrients you’re aiming for. By trying to take shortcuts using supplements, it’s possible to actually do more harm than good.
“Take beta-carotene, for example,” the report reads. “There are famous investigations that show that, at levels you’d get from dietary intakes, beta-carotene has been linked to decreased lung cancer risk. But, intervention studies found that high dose beta-carotene supplements actually promote lung cancer development among smokers.”
8. Vice is life’s spice, but moderation is nice
As you already know, you shouldn’t drink or smoke to excess. This is something a lot of people struggle with, despite the fact that research shows alcohol consumption and tobacco use have clearly been tied to cancer development. As with processed meats or sugar, a little bit is OK. It’s when we develop chronic use issues related to alcohol or tobacco that we find ourselves in trouble. Drill it into your head: Moderation is key.
9. Look for better protein sources
The report contains an entire section dedicated specifically to protein. To get to the heart of the issue, the EWG says “for cancer defense, the future of protein is green.” As you may have guessed, that means that you should be looking for lean and greener sources of protein. As mentioned, that involves moving away from red and processed meats. Think seafood, nuts, seeds, and beans.
10. Try different pairings and preparation techniques
You may not have known, but how you prepare your food and what you pair it with can boost cancer-fighting abilities. Under a section titled Bioavailability, the report outlines some specific pairings that can be beneficial. When you combine foods in certain ways (or prepare them in certain ways), you can take advantage of your body’s natural absorption processes.