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Reduce Your Cancer Risk With Good Nutrition


Submitted by OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center

Half the people living in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. With odds like that, it’s important to know what you can do to reduce your cancer risk—as well as some key first steps to take if you do get diagnosed.

“It’s important to fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods to both help ward off cancer as well as to repair and restore body cells if you are fighting cancer,” said Kim McClintic, MS, RDN, dietitian for OSF HealthCare. “There are no magic foods, by themselves, that will prevent cancer, but there is strong evidence that an overall healthy pattern of eating more plant-based foods can help lower your risk.”

Minimize Your Cancer Risk
Cancer comes in countless types and sub-types. You could twist yourself into a pretzel trying to do every little thing exactly right and still get cancer. That’s because some factors—such as genetics—are beyond your control. Still, you can significantly reduce your cancer risk with things that you do have control of such as your weight, your physical activity, what you eat and drink, and your tobacco use.

Be at a Healthy Weight
Obesity is a huge risk factor for cancer, so maintaining a healthy weight is important to staying healthy. “The goal is to be at a weight that is healthy for you. Discuss your weight with your primary care provider and refer to the BMI chart (body mass index). Also, make physical activity part of your daily routine. It can be as simple as walking more and sitting less,” Kim said.

Focus on Natural Food and Drink
Eating and drinking right fuels our daily activity. It also helps prevent chronic conditions and fortifies us against attacks by various diseases, including cancer. “Eat mainly fresh foods that are minimally processed, meaning, they look like they did when they came from either the ground or the animal,” Kim said.

A diet rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids is important. Phytochemicals are found in plants and help prevent cancer-causing agents from forming. Antioxidants, which help maintain your DNA and keep cancer cells in check, abound in bold colored fruits and vegetables.

Kim recommends fruits and vegetables that are deep, dark green, maroon, red, yellow, orange, and purple. “They pack the biggest punch of antioxidants.”

Omega-3 fatty acids—common in seafood, walnuts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, canola oil, and fortified foods—also have been shown to help reduce cancer.

Make Good Food and Drink Choices
The American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Cancer Research Fund offer these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Consume more plant-based foods. In fact, they recommend you fill 2/3 of your plate with whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans and the remaining 1/3 with animal-based protein-rich foods such as seafood, skinless poultry and low-fat dairy (unless you are following a vegan diet). Kim also recommends trying to include a few meatless meals per week.
  • Avoid processed meats that are cured, smoked, salted, flavor enhanced, or fermented such as ham, deli meats, bacon, salami, hot dogs, pepperoni, and sausages. And, keep red meat to less than 18 ounces per week.
  • Drink mostly water and limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Choose plain or flavored waters that do not contain added sugar. Enjoy a mug of unsweetened tea or coffee, or infuse water and tea with fruits, lemon wedges, or even some slices of cucumber.
  • Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Preparing for Treatment
Good nutrition becomes even more crucial if you are diagnosed with cancer. The cancer itself and the cancer treatments can zap your energy, change your appetite, and use up a lot of calories and protein needed to repair and restore your body. Ironically, instead of trying to lose weight, you will need to at least maintain weight, so your body has the strength to fight the disease. Check out our list of healthy recipes at

For more information about OSF cancer services, go to or call the OSF Cancer Center in Bloomington at (309) 661-5240.  Check out our list of healthy recipes at