Almost every single day, I have a conversation with someone about nutrition/diet. Especially when someone is newly diagnosed, she is often eager to consider changes in her diet with the intent of staying healthy and reducing the risk of a future recurrence. In spite of all the articles in the popular press and all the books on library and book store shelves, there is no solid evidence that any particular diet either prevents cancer or reduces the recurrence risk.
Here is the short and rather unsatisfying summary about what we do know: During active treatment (chemotherapy and/or radiation), it is important to eat enough protein to give your body what it needs to rebuild healthy cells. Moderation is smart in all things. A healthy diet is heavy in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and lighter in processed foods, fats, and red meat. In other words, whatever you already knew about a balanced and smart diet still applies, and there is nothing extra that should now be added because you have had cancer. When asked what to do to stay well after treatment ends, one of our senior oncologists tells his patients to eat lots of broccoli. This is both a sardonic statement related to all the whoopla about diet and also sound advice--as long as you realize that no amount of broccoli brings a promise.
This is an excerpt from an article from the American Institute for Cancer Research comparing their nutrition guidelines to those of the federal government. I am including a link to see a nice graphic that makes it all very simple and clear.
On January 31, the federal government released their new dietary guidelines, a set of evidence-based recommendations updated every five years that is at the root of all federal-based nutrition programs. How do the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans overlap with AICR's evidence-based Guidelines for Cancer Prevention?*
With more than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States overweight or obese, the new dietary guidelines place a strong emphasis on weight management. AICR's expert report found that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important lifestyle-related risk factors for cancer prevention.
The guidelines focus on increasing foods people eat that come from plants, such as vegetables and fruits. These guidelines echo many of AICR's recommendations.
Here are some highlights.
Government Dietary Guidelines
AICR Guidelines for Cancer Prevention
An Emphasis on Obesity
Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors.
Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For people who are overweight or obese, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages
Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
Research shows that excess body fat is a cause of cancers of the colorectum, esophagus, endometrium, kidney, pancreas and post-menopausal breast and probably gallbladder.
AICR estimates that approximately 100,000 cases of cancer occurring in the US every year can be attributed to excess body fat.**
Focusing on Foods
Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
|Avoid sugary drinks. The expert report found that regularly consuming sugary drinks contributes to weight gain|
|Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.||Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat).|
|Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.||Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) to no more than 18 oz. per week and avoid processed meat to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.|
|Increase vegetable and fruit intake.||Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.|
|Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas, and vitamin C-rich foods.||Research shows that vegetables and fruits probably protect against a range of cancers, including mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, lung, pancreas and prostate.|
|If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation–up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.||If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day. Alcohol is linked to increasing the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and breast, colorectal, and liver.|
Salt and Sodium
For people over age 50, African Americans, and those who have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease: 1,500 mg. or less of sodium per day.
For everyone else, 2,300 mg or less per day. (Average sodium intake is 3,400 mg per day.)
Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt.
The expert report found that salt and salt-preserved foods probably increase the chance of developing stomach cancer.
|Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors.||Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.|
In order to put healthy, cancer-protective recommendations into action, AICR has developed a visual plate approach: when preparing meals, aim to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, and one-third or less with fish, poultry or meat.
This approach was developed by AICR over a decade ago and grows out of the organization's evidence-based advice for lowering cancer risk.
*Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was cited throughout the government's guidelines.
**Estimates are calculated by combining the latest US cancer incidence data with the conclusions of the AICR/WCRF report, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention.