Cancer prevention is far from an exact science. However, there are quite a few things you can do to reduce risk.
Using tobacco and alcohol and being overweight and inactive are known to increase the odds of various cancers. With alcohol, studies show that more than one daily drink for women and more than two for men increases risk. With tobacco, there’s absolutely no safe threshold.
Body fat isn’t just excess weight. Rather, fat cells generate internal inflammation, especially in abdominal fat. And the inflammation seems to increase the risk of cancer.
For cancer prevention, an hour a day of moderate exercise (walking, for example) is effective, but any amount is always better than none. To save time, you can gradually build up to higher-intensity activity and do shorter bouts, which can be even more effective than more leisurely exercise.
In the food department, it takes a bit of planning but it’s well worth it. Try gradually adopting these principles:
1. Skip toxins in food by choosing organic versions as much as possible. Although no one has studied the long-term cancer risks posed by consuming purportedly “safe” levels of pesticides and other toxins, there’s no need to be a guinea pig.
2. Be smart about meat. Limit red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) to 3 ounces daily of lean cuts or eat grass-fed beef, which contains more beneficial nutrients. Choose meat and poultry that is organic or raised without hormones and antibiotics. And feel free to eat more fish, especially cold water fish with healthy fat, such as wild salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines.
3. Cook meat slowly on a low heat, as high heat generates carcinogens. Spices and marinades can make slow-cooked, inexpensive cuts of meat very flavorful and tender.
4. Avoid processed meats or choose healthier versions. Cold cuts, sausages, and hot dogs are linked to cancer but it’s possible that a particular food additive in these, sodium nitrite, is the real culprit. If you want to eat these types of foods, look for products without the additive.
5. Organize your plate. To maintain a healthy weight, the American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org
) recommends dividing your plate into three equal parts: one-third meat or fish, one-third vegetables and one-third whole grains or legumes (such as beans, peas, chickpeas, or lentils). To lose weight, divide your plate this way: one-half vegetables, one-quarter whole grains or legumes, and one-quarter meat or fish.
6. Instead of trying restrictive weight-loss diets, cut back on your overall quantity of food by 25 percent. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that reducing portions this way left people satisfied without increased hunger between meals, but produced weight loss.
7. Eat a lot of different non-starchy vegetables and fruits. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found this: Even among people who ate eight to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, consuming food from 18 plant families was more effective in preventing genetic damage (which can lead to cancer) than eating the same number of servings from only eight plant families.
Incorporating these strategies into your usual routines, one at a time, can do more than reduce your risk for cancer. It could just give you a whole new lease on life.