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Preventing Cancer with Diet, Exercise and Weight Management

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/18/2006 | Fitness
About one third of all cancer deaths are related to diet. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) dietary choices, together with exercise and a healthy weight, could prevent 3 to 4 million cancer cases worldwide each year. The top 3 causes of cancer are genetics, diet and environment. If individuals work to minimize the factors linked with the risks, as high as 60-70 percent of cancers can be prevented.

Following a Plant Based Diet
The best type of diet to prevent cancer is one that is based mostly on a variety of plant foods. Scientific evidence shows that vegetables and fruits protect against many different types of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends 5 to 10 fruits and vegetables a day, which can reduce incidences of cancer by as much as 40 percent.

Diets that focus on vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes (dried beans and peas) fight cancer in several ways. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals and other beneficial substances that are found in these foods are associated with lowering the risk of cancer. Phytochemicals are a natural substance found in vegetables and fruit that can interfere with cancer cell development. A plant-based diet is proven to protect against cancers of the colon, rectum, stomach, lung, mouth, pharynx, and esophagus. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables has also been shown to lower rates of cancer of the breast, bladder, pancreas and larynx.

Research suggests that lycopene, found in tomatoes and tomato-based products, can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cancers of the lung, bladder, cervix and skin. Spinach, avocado and other yellow or leafy green vegetables contain lutein, which can reduce the risk of eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration. When lutein is combined with lycopene it has additional preventive effects on prostate cancer cell growth.

Leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits should be eaten year round, not just when they are in season, for the greatest benefit. Eating a variety of these fruits and vegetables increase the cancer fighting benefit.

A high fiber diet helps move waste out of the body more quickly and can prevent colon and rectal cancers. A diet comprised largely of red meat slows waste elimination and increases the incidence of colorectal cancer.

Maintain a Healthy Weight and Be Physically Active
A diet rich in plant-based foods is generally lower in calories and may promote weight management. Obesity is linked to breast, colon, gall bladder and uterine cancers. The AICR recommends that adults avoid being underweight or overweight and limit weight gain to less than 11 pounds over medically appropriate weight.

Finding low fat alternatives to favorite foods and cutting back on portion sizes are 2 ways to begin eating healthier. Also, incorporating poultry and seafood into the diet and choosing lean cuts of meat helps in this effort. Switch to low fat and fat free versions of high fat products like mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream and cheese. Avoid fried foods and meats that contain nitrates such as cured lunch meats, smoked fish and bacon. Substitute fruits for fatty desserts. Reduce sodium intake by cutting back on salted foods and use of cooking and table salt. Try using herbs and spices to season foods instead.

Physical activity at any age can reduce the risk of being overweight. People who are sedentary at work can reach the recommended level of physical activity by incorporating an hour of vigorous activity and an hour of brisk walking into their week. This can be broken into smaller increments if a full hour time block isn't possible. The best way to incorporate physical activity into a daily routine is to choose activities one enjoys and schedule those activities as an appointment to be kept. (Before beginning any exercise program be sure to discuss it with a health care provider.)

If you have a genetic history of cancer, you may want to follow the suggestions given in this article to reduce your risks. By changing your diet to a mainly plant based diet, becoming physically active on a regular basis and managing your weight you may reduce your risk of cancer by as much as 40 percent.