The following content is created in consultation with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Miami's editorial staff. Click here to learn more about Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
We can't choose our genes—but we can choose what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here are small changes in your diet that have a big impact on cancer risk.
Eat the rainbow
A diet based on antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains and healthy fats has been proven to reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer. Incorporating a full-spectrum variety is key, according to Lesley Klein, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. She recommends filling two-thirds of your plate with colorful plant foods.
Choose “whole” foods over processed
Our bodies can't always absorb costly nutritional supplements but we're adept at pulling what we need from vegetables and fruits in their natural state. These non-processed foods contain fiber that moves unwanted substances, like carcinogens, through the digestive tract. To get the 30–50 grams of daily fiber recommended by the Mayo clinic, look for opportunities to make simple substitutions, like an unpeeled apple instead of apple juice.
Get more protein from plants than animals
Dietary protein is important, Klein says, because “when we lose weight, we lose fat and muscle, but when we gain weight, we gain mostly fat. Lean tissue like muscle suffers unless we replace the protein we need.” Animal protein can cause inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. The good news? “You can get a lot of protein from plant foods," says Klein. A half-cup of quinoa has 4 grams of protein and a half-cup of beans has 8 grams. Add garlic, peppers and onions for a tasty, high-protein side dish.
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity has been associated with cancers including breast, colon and rectum, endometrial, esophageal and pancreatic. To manage weight, Klein recommends sourcing carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables and small amounts of fruit rather than sugars, refined carbs or packaged foods. For those who need to keep their nutrients up, Klein suggests a South Florida berry known as Miracle Fruit (synsepalum dulcificum), that binds to taste buds to make food more appealing.
Prepare food in healthful ways
The way you cook ingredients can help you get more benefit from them. If you steam vegetables only until tender, for example, you'll preserve more of their vitamins. Herbs and spices like ginger, curry powder and turmeric add both flavor and cancer-fighting properties to a dish. Cooking or baking with low heat can keep oils and fats from turning carcinogenic.
Add cancer fighting foods to your daily diet
- Garlic can reduce cancers including colon, breast, brain and lung
- Red apples protect against liver, colon and breast cancer
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc.) guard against breast, bladder, lung and prostate cancer
- Ground flaxseed slows the growth of prostate and breast cancer
- Blueberries, carrots, cherries, dark leafy green vegetables, dried beans and peas, grapes, grapefruit, squash, tomatoes, walnuts and whole grains may all help prevent cancer and/or its recurrence
Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t
Cancer prevention isn’t so much about what you have to give up but what you should include. "We should never underestimate the power of good nutrition to keep us healthy, prevent cancer, cancer recurrence, heart disease, obesity and diabetes," says Klein. "It should be an integral part of our life plan."
Lesley Klein and her team provide expert nutritional support at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Click here to learn about the standard-setting treatment options and clinical trials at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center that help patients move toward optimal health.