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Helping Protect Against Cancer With Nutrition




According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year in the United States.1

The good news is that research suggests you can help prevent cancer with healthy lifestyle choices, including:2

  • Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and fish or poultry instead of red and processed meats
  • Being active and exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Having health screenings as recommended

American Cancer Society nutrition guidelines recommend that you eat:3,4

  • At least 1 ½ cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables each day
    • Fill half of your lunch and dinner plates with vegetables and fruit
    • Eat fruit as a dessert or sweet snack
    • Eat vegetables as a snack or appetizer
  • Fruits and vegetables of every color to get cancer-fighting antioxidants
    • Red strawberries, radishes, and beets
    • Green kiwi, kale, and spinach
    • Yellow/orange carrots, peaches, and oranges
    • White/brown mushrooms, turnips, and dates
    • Blue/purple blueberries, eggplant, and grapes
  • Begetables containing cancer-fighting compounds
    • Onions, scallions, leeks, chives and garlic contain substances such as quercetin, allixin, and organosulfur compounds that are being studied for their cancer-fighting effects5
    • Tomatoes’ contain lycopene, a phytochemical that has been shown to help reduce risk of prostate cancer in some people. Cooking and processing tomatoes for tomato sauce, tomato paste, or tomato juice releases lycopene and allows it to be more easily absorbed6
    • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rapini, green cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips contain fiber, folate, carotenoids, and vitamin C that together can help protect against some types of cancer7
  • Raw, steamed, microwaved, baked, or lightly grilled vegetables
  • Fresh fruit, frozen fruit packaged with no added sugar, fruit canned in its own juice with no added sugar, and drink only 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar
  • One to 2 servings of whole grains* and legumes at meals for a total of 25 grams of fiber per day
    • Whole grains provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains
    • Whole grains also contain phytochemicals that protect cells from cancer-causing oxidants
    • Dried beans and peas (legumes) such as adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lima beans, snow peas, snap peas, split peas, lentils, and black-eyed peas are high in fiber
    • Legumes are a good source of plant-based protein that can replace meat 
    • Instead of white rice serve a brown rice pilaf; add chickpeas for more fiber 
    • Use 100% whole wheat pasta and serve it with a tomato-based sauce that contains lentils or kidney beans
    • Eat unflavored quick, instant, regular, old-fashioned, and steel-cut oats and add fruit for flavor
    • Choose soups such as minestrone, black bean, or lentil 
    • Add legumes such as soybeans to salads tossed with chopped peppers and tomatoes
  • Healthy proteins
    • Eat veggie/bean burgers instead of hamburgers
    • Try tofu or tempeh instead of meat in pasta recipes
    • Prepare meatless meals with legumes, soy, and/or nuts and seeds
    • Eat fish, chicken, or turkey instead of red meats
    • Serve small, 3-ounce to 4-ounce portions of lean (<5 grams of fat per 3.5-ounce serving) beef, pork, lamb, and goat for a maximum of 18 ounces per week
    • Limit processed, salted, cured, smoked, and chemically preserved meats such as sausage, hot dogs, luncheon meat, bacon, pastrami ,and salami


In addition to providing vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need to stay healthy, a well-balanced diet that follows American Cancer Society guidelines, limits sugar, fat, and calories, and is combined with regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight.4


*Look for the word whole as the first ingredient on a food to ensure it is a whole grain product. Enriched and multigrain products primarily contain refined flours and they are not made from whole grains.




1. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Prevention Overview. Accessed April 1, 2014.
2. American Cancer Society. Stay healthy. Accessed April 1, 2014.
3. The Second Expert Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Accessed April 1, 2014.
4. American Cancer Society.Guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA: Cancer JClin. 2012.62 (1);30-67.
5. American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: garlic. Accessed April 1, 2014.
6. American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: tomatoes. Accessed April 1, 2014.
7. American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: broccoli and cruciferous vegetables. Accessed April 1, 2014.
8. Michigan Beef Industry Council. Twenty-nine lean cuts of beef help you eat smart. Accessed April 1, 2014.