Is there an anti-cancer diet?

Pick foods based on the best evidence

graphic of good food
Learn more about nutrition and cancer prevention. Browse the articles on Nutrition and Cancer Prevention.

by Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

Take a stroll through the health section of any bookstore and you'll find a wide variety of books promoting an anti-cancer diet. This isn't surprising since one in 25 Americans is defined as a cancer survivor -- that is, someone who has received a cancer diagnosis. The problem with these books depends on whether their diets are based on scientific evidence or simply the author's opinion.

The American Cancer Society rounded up a group of experts on nutrition and cancer survivorship to come up with anti-cancer diet recommendations.

Aim for a diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains

Based on the evidence, individuals should consume 2–3 cups of vegetables and 1½ – 2 cups of fruit every day. These foods are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Choose a variety of colors and whole fruit over fruit juice.

Whole grains are rich in anti-cancer hormonal and antioxidant compounds. Experts recommend you eat at least three 1-ounce servings of whole grains per day. One serving equates to ½ cup cooked whole-grain pasta, brown rice or oatmeal, or one slice of 100 percent whole-grain bread.

These foods are also rich in fiber, which makes you feel full with smaller portions. If overweight or obese, limit consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages to promote weight loss. When it comes to high-calorie foods and drinks, such as fast food, fried food or regular soda, eat these in moderation, whether you are overweight or not. They are high in calories, typically low in filling power and nutrients, and they may have harmful inflammatory properties.

Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight

Body mass index, or BMI, is often the measurement most clinicians use to determine if a person’s weight is healthy.

A BMI greater than 25 is considered overweight, greater than 30 indicates obesity. If you find yourself in one of these categories, lifestyle modifications involving diet, exercise, stress management and sleep can all help you achieve your healthy weight.

Also, get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, get more than six hours of sleep at night, and take time to relax and lower your stress level.

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Thrive Issue: 
Winter, 2013