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6 Dietary Habits To Adopt During National Cancer Prevention Month

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Key Takeaways

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.
  • While there is no way to completely prevent cancer, adopting certain dietary habits may help reduce your risk.
  • February is National Cancer Prevention Month, a time that raises awareness about cancer and ways to prevent it. Including certain foods in your diet may help reduce your cancer risk.

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. The goal of the observance is to help people learn how to take action and reduce their risk of developing cancer.

An estimated 608,570 people in the United States died from cancer in 2021. Given the statistics, finding ways to prevent the disease is a key area of research.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer, there are certain lifestyle choices that can mitigate your risk. 

Cancer Risk Factors

Cancer is a complex disease, and there isn't a single cause. Many factors affect your risk, including several that are out of your control.

Risk factors you can't change are your age, your family history, and prolonged exposure to certain chemicals, which could happen at your job or where you live.

However, research has shown that adopting certain lifestyle habits may reduce your risk of developing some cancers. This means you can take a proactive approach to cancer prevention.

Some lifestyle habits that are linked to a reduced cancer risk include:

Dietary Habits That May Reduce Cancer Risk

No one way of eating can eliminate the risk of cancer, but there are some foods that, when eaten consistently, may help reduce your risk. 

Here are six dietary habits that may help reduce your overall risk of getting cancer. 

Follow a Plant-Based Diet

Close up of a white person's hands holding an array of colorful vegetables.

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A plant-based diet does not mean that you have to avoid meat altogether. Instead, the bulk of your plate comes from plant sources like produce, beans, nuts, and legumes. Beef, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based foods can still be part of your overall diet—just in smaller quantities.

A 2013 study found that premenopausal women who consumed 6 grams or more of soluble fiber a day had a 62% reduced risk of breast cancer compared to the women who ate less than 4 grams of soluble fiber a day.

One cup of black beans has about 6 grams of soluble fiber.

A 2019 study noted a decrease in the incidence of colon cancer when people consumed a diet of plant-based foods that are rich in phytochemicals or plant metabolites that have an anti-cancer effect. 

Add Garlic to Meals

Close up of a whole glove of garlic next to some pieces of garlic on a white background.

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While garlic is known for giving a dish a unique zing, a less-known benefit is that it might also help lower your risk of cancer. Garlic is a natural source of a natural compound called allicin that may have anti-cancer properties.

A 2011 analysis of studies showed that consuming high levels of allicin-containing vegetables was linked to a reduced risk of developing stomach cancer.

Crunch on Cruciferous Vegetables

A bowel of lettuce, carrots, radishes, and cherry tomatoes.

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Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, are nutrient-dense foods are natural sources of a plant compound called sulforaphane. Some research suggests the compound has anti-cancer properties.

A 2019 study showed that eating certain cruciferous vegetables allowed more cancer-causing compounds to be cleared from the body. This, in turn, was thought to reduce the chances of developing the disease.

In fact, a 2013 analysis of 35 studies found that eating cruciferous vegetables was linked to a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Choose Olive Oil as a Fat Source

Close up of a person's hands holding a small cup of olive oil/dressing that they are drizzling on a plate of vegetables.

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Healthy fats are an essential part of a healthful diet. Olive oil, in particular, may help lower your risk of cancer.

A large analysis of studies published in 2022 found that the people who consumed the highest amounts of olive oil daily had a 31% lower likelihood of developing any cancer compared to people who consumed less.

Including olive oil in your diet can be as easy as drizzling it over veggies or mixing up an olive oil-based salad dressing.

Cut Back on Alcohol

Two people, un seen, clinking colorful glasses with fruit garnishes and tiny umbrellas.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for breast, liver, colorectal, esophageal, stomach, and oral cancer.

You may want to limit the total number of alcoholic drinks that you consume a day or stop drinking alcohol completely. If you want to start cutting back, try sparkling water with fruit, experiment with fun "mocktail" recipes, or have a comforting cup of tea.

Limit Processed Meats

A sliced salami stick on a wooden cutting board next to some herbs and spices.

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If you include meat in your diet, limit processed options. Research has shown that smoked, cured, and preserved meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer—especially colorectal cancers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified processed meats (including ham, bacon, salami, and frankfurts) as a Group 1 carcinogen. That means there is strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer—especially bowel and stomach cancer.

While processed meats like sausage, salami, jerky, and bacon are tasty when paired with cheese and crackers, look for options that aren't processed to add to your charcuterie board.

Being Proactive About Cancer Prevention

Some factors that affect your risk of getting cancer in your life are out of your control. However, there are some things you can do to proactively reduce your risk.

Making lifestyle changes, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a weight that's healthy for you, and being physically active are all steps you can take to lower your risk of cancer.

These choices will also support your overall health. The key is being consistent and setting goals that will help you stick with these habits for the long haul.

What This Means For You

Some risk factors for cancer, like your age and family history, can't be changed. However, your diet is one area where you can make choices that may reduce your cancer risk.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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