One-third of all cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are linked to diet and physical activity. To reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancers, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and eat a healthy diet.
Being overweight may create a greater risk of developing breast, uterine/endometrial, cervical or ovarian cancer. The body mass index (BMI) can indicate if a weight is healthy. The BMI is calculated using a person’s weight in relation to their height. The American Cancer Society’s BMI chart is an easy way to look this up. A BMI less than 18.5 is underweight, BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is normal, BMI between 25 and 29.9 is overweight and BMI of 30 and above is obese. BMI is a good way to get an idea of health weight ranges to maintain.
Studies show that moderate and vigorous physical activity are linked with lower breast cancer risk and may protect women against post-menopausal breast cancer. Physical activity may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and diabetes. A good starting point is to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day—brisk walking or biking. Women over 50 years of age with serious medical problems should check with their doctor before starting any intense physical activity program.
Diet and Nutrition
When planning a healthy diet, health experts suggest following these guidelines:
- Avoid food and drinks high in sugar. Sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, cakes, pies and cookies are very high in empty calories and fat and low in important nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, peas, beans and lentils. A plant-based diet is made up of foods that come mostly from plants. Plant-foods are more wholesome and richer in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Phytonutrients help to protect the cells in the body from damage and help boost the immune system. These include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Green tea, grapes, berries, citrus fruits, apples, whole grains and nuts are other great sources of phytonutrients.
- Limit processed meats and red meats. Processed meats are generally smoked, cured or salted. Processing of cold cuts, sausage, bacon, ham and hot dogs adds cancer-causing substances like salt or sodium nitrite. Studies have linked eating large amounts of processed meats with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Health experts recommend that red meats like beef, lamb and pork should be limited to no more than 18 ounces a week. If meat is part of the diet, it is better to eat lean meats, fish, poultry or beans. Cook by baking, broiling, poaching or steaming, instead of frying.
- Avoid alcohol. Women who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than one drink per day—no more than two per day for men. One drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces 80-proof distilled spirits.
- Limit the use of salty foods. Too much salt may increase the risk of stomach cancer as well as high blood pressure. Salt in your diet should be less than 2,400 milligrams per day—or about one teaspoon. Try to cut back on added it while cooking, and avoid salty foods and snacks.
- Avoid using supplements for cancer prevention. Taking large doses of supplements may have serious side effects, especially when taken with other medications. Women should avoid taking soy pills, unless approved by a doctor. In certain cases, a woman may need calcium or vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones), but this should also be prescribed by a doctor.