Beat cancer with healthy diet and active lifestyle |

Beat cancer with healthy diet and active lifestyle

Jason Eberhart-Phillips

Sometimes I ask people to name the leading causes of cancer. The usual answers I hear center around smoking and exposure to hazards such as pesticides, asbestos and radiation from X-rays or radon gas.

Another popular response is that “it’s all in your genes.” Almost nobody mentions that people get cancer from being fat: from poor diets, sedentary lifestyles and obesity.

But the fat around your belly may be your single biggest cancer risk. And, surprisingly, avoiding excess weight may be your single best way to prevent cancer.

That’s the conclusion of a 517-page report issued last month by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the London-based World Cancer Research Fund. The report is the most rigorous study to date on the link between cancer and the worldwide problem of obesity.

Except for smoking, which accounts for about a third of all cancers, the environmental factors we usually associate with cancer each play a relatively minor role in causing cancer throughout the population. Far more important is unhealthy food and a lack of exercise, which together account for another third of all cancer cases through the buildup of fat.

What does this mean for people who want to avoid cancer? It means that the same attention to healthy eating and daily physical activity that prevents heart disease and diabetes may be exactly what’s required to reduce America’s ever-increasing cancer incidence.

The new report takes this advice further. It shows evidence that to beat cancer, people need to not only avoid obesity, but they also need to bring their weight to the lean end of the normal range. For someone 5 feet, 10 inches tall, that’s a weight no greater than 160 pounds.

Here are the report’s key recommendations:

— Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.

— Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.

— Limit consumption of energy-dense foods: processed foods high in added sugar, low in fiber, or high in fat. Avoid sugary drinks.

— Eat mostly foods of plant origin, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

— Limit consumption of red meats and avoid all processed meats.

— Limit alcoholic drinks to two per day for men and one per day for women.

— Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt.

— Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone instead of supplements.

— Mothers should breast-feed, and children should be breast-fed.

— After treatment, cancer survivors should follow recommendations for cancer prevention.

— Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is the El Dorado County health officer. He can be reached at

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