Five Cancer-Fighting Changes You Can Make This Week!

By: Karen McPartland, RD
Senior Dietitian

According to the National Cancer Institute, about eighty percent of cancers are due to identified factors and some of these factors can potentially be controlled. Thirty percent of cancers are due to tobacco use, and as much as 35 to 50 percent are due to foods. Improving your eating habits is a great way to potentially avoid many types of cancers as well as other diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Kitchens full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains make it easy to eat meal and snack combinations that are high in flavor but low in added salt, sugar and saturated fat (all dietary factors that can contribute to cancer risk). By changing the food you have on hand you’ll take a solid step to support your cancer-prevention efforts. So, follow these simple steps to make your kitchen more supportive of cancer prevention.

1. Check your Grains – Whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat bread and rolled oats are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which protect cells from the types of damage that may lead to cancer. Unfortunately, there are many foods on the shelf that look like whole grains, but really aren’t whole grains. When you are at the supermarket, don’t just grab the first loaf of brown bread or the first box of “wheat” crackers that you see. Take the time to look at the label to make sure that you are you really choosing whole grain products. A true whole grain food will contain the word “whole” as part of the first ingredient on the ingredient list (ex. whole oats, whole wheat flour, etc.).

Here are some examples of whole grains to stock in your pantry: Whole Wheat bread like Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain bread, 100% whole-wheat crackers like Kashi Heart to Heart crackers, Cereals made from whole oats or other type of whole grain like Quaker Oatmeal or Nature’s Path Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon cereal

2. Scale Back on Sugar – Foods high in sugar, such as candy, cookies and sodas, are calorie dense foods, and, as we know, many studies have found convincing evidence that these foods contribute to weight gain and obesity. Since having too much body fat is one of the leading risk factors for cancer, replacing sugar-laden foods with lower calorie/sugar-containing foods can help prevent weight gain, thereby reducing your risk of cancer (as well as other diseases like heart disease and diabetes).

Try these lower sugar alternatives: Unsweetened seltzer water, black, green and herbal teas, Plain instant oatmeal with a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of flavored packets, Plain non-fat yogurt with a handful of blueberries instead of yogurts with high fructose corn syrup, etc.

3. Slash Sodium – Too much salt increases the risk for some types of cancer like stomach cancer. We get most of our sodium from highly processed canned, boxed and frozen foods as well as salt added at the table.

Look for these lower sodium and no-salt options: Unsalted/Raw or lightly salted almonds, pecans or other nuts, Crispbread crackers like Wasa or Ryvita brands, Mrs. Dash Seasonings, Frozen vegetables without added sauces, Frozen soups like Tabatchnick Lentil Soup, etc.

4. Fill Up on Fiber -Eating foods that contain fiber lowers the risk for digestive cancers (as well as Type II Diabetes and Heart Disease). Whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts and fruit are your tickets to a fiber-rich diet.

Try these fiber-boosting ideas: Keep a bowl of fresh fruit like apples, bananas and pears on your kitchen counter. If you see it, you are more likely to eat it! Carry dried fruit and single-serve packets of nuts with you so you have a nutrient-dense, fiber-rich snack to keep your energy up while running errands.

5. Buy the Basics- Move to a healthier diet by incorporating often overlooked basics that contain cancer-fighting nutrients. Canned or frozen beans (phytochemicals, folic acid, fiber), low-sodium canned tuna or salmon (omega-3s), whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce (lycopene and vitamin C) and peanut butter (vitamin E) are examples of powerhouse foods that you can stock up on so that you always have a quick snack or a quick meal in your pantry.

Keep these ideas in mind when you need a quick snack or meal: For a Snack: 1 Tbsp. natural peanut butter on 1 slice whole-wheat bread or a handful of steamed soy beans. For a Main Dish: Whole wheat pasta tossed with canned tuna, broccoli and 2 tsp olive oil or Whole wheat pasta tossed with chickpeas and tomato sauce.