5 Food Swaps to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Yogurt with pomegranate seeds
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I’m willing to bet that there’s not one person reading this who hasn’t been touched by cancer in one way or another—and likely more than once. And yet, while cancer can tear apart and shorten lives in devastating ways, today there’s more cause for celebration than ever when it comes to medical breakthroughs and cancer prevention.

While it might seem initially odd to frame the subject of cancer in a positive light, numerous studies continue to show that, for example, the “psychological stance which patients adopt in response to cancer can, in some cases, influence the course of their disease.”

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is an organization that’s leading the cause. They recently launched the #RealHopeIs campaign, which brings to life amazing stories of survival, courage, and hope. Their project reminds us all of the great strides the medical and research communities have made in regard to cancer research and treatment. And the AACR Foundation welcomes anyone who has experienced promise while facing cancer’s challenges to post their own videos to help others facing similar plights.

Back to Basics

Thankfully, cancer is a very different diagnosis today than it was years ago. We have better detection and prevention, as well as encouraging new treatments. And from the lifestyle perspective, there are plenty of things we can do to lower our risk, including: 

  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Experts estimate that we can avoid a third of all cancers simply by eating healthier and moving more often.
  • Stop smoking and limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Be smart about sun exposure (and don’t forget the sunscreen—even on non-pool or beach days).
  • Get screened, especially for cervical and colorectal cancers. I suggest talking with your primary physician and setting dates for appropriate cancer screenings. Remember that what might seem like a tedious chore could actually save or extend your life.

Friendlier Foods

You’re not going to be surprised to hear me discuss food and nutrition as a way of possibly preventing cancer (and staying healthy in general). I know a lot of this information can be overwhelming. So here I’ll share five simple food swaps that have the potential to go a long way in helping you cut you and your family’s cancer risk.

  1. Instead of tossing plain meat on the grill, try marinating it first in a flavorful seasoning blend. Cooking meats at high temperatures produces chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to many forms of cancers. Studies have shown that marinating your meat before grilling can reduce HCA formation by up to 96 percent.
  2. Instead of topping your baked potato with butter and sour cream, try adding warm marinara sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Lycopene (a powerful antioxidant that’s concentrated in tomatoes) has been linked to reducing the risk of certain cancers.
  3. Instead of serving celery sticks and cucumber slices with hummus, try broccoli and cauliflower florets. Both contain phytochemicals called glucosinolates, which produce the protective enzyme sulforaphane (packing a one-two punch against cancer because it can help detoxify harmful substances and act as an antimicrobial).
  4. Instead of adding granola to yogurt, try pomegranate seeds (loaded with polyphenols like tannins, which just might inhibit cancer cell growth and deactivate cancer-causing compounds). Plus the seeds add a great crunch factor!
  1. Instead of enjoying a popsicle or ice cream, try frozen purple grapes. The grapes’ red skin is rich in an antioxidant called resveratrol (the same beneficial compound found in wine), which may help keep cancer from forming and spreading.

Do Your Homework

For even more information and to share your own #RealHopeIs stories, visit the National Cancer Research Month Facebook page.

Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, is the health and nutrition expert for NBC’s TODAY Show and founder of Nourish Snacks.

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