This Cancer-Prevention Plan Helps Prevent Diabetes, Heart Disease & More!
Wouldn’t it be great if one best diet and lifestyle plan addressed all of your health concerns? This cancer prevention plan gets pretty close!
Over the years, clients have come to me for specific diet and lifestyle guidance to manage blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol or blood pressure readings, manage weight or simply live a vibrant life. Interestingly, I use the same healthy diet framework – with modifications, of course – for all of these concerns. Perhaps surprisingly, this framework comes from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
In case you wonder why I use cancer prevention guidelines for health problems like heart disease, prediabetes and diabetes, it’s because there is so much overlap! And because people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing heart disease and at least 8 types of cancer.
For some great information about the link between diabetes and cancer, check out my good friend’s thorough explanation at the Smart Bytes Blog. In fact, check out the entire site because Karen Collins does amazing work.
Also interesting is that the AICR plan is consistent with the top diets selected by US News & World Report. By the way, I’m a proud member of the panel that ranks the diets.
This Best Diet is Best for Many
You don’t need a different diet for each health concern. Many people think one health problem conflicts with the healthy eating plan for another. Sometimes this is true. But usually not. For the most part, healthy eating is a cancer-prevention plan, which works to treat or prevent a host of other ailments.
AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) published their third expert report, Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective in 2018. Based on a comprehensive search of the scientific literature, they summarized their findings in 10 basic recommendations. The first 7 target the other main concerns of the folks I’ve worked with for years.
7 cancer prevention recommendations for ALL of us
- Be a healthy weight (or as close to it as possible). Excess body fat pumps out hormones and other compounds that can give cancer growth a boost. Carrying extra fat is a cause of at least 12 cancers. And it bumps up the risk of developing prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. Plus, it makes managing these problems even harder.
- Get started: Unless you’re underweight, aim to avoid weight gain throughout adulthood. If you have extra body fat, try to lose a few pounds and maintain the lowest weight you can without dropping too low.
- Be physically active. All types of physical activity lower cancer risk by affecting hormones and immune function. Cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging and biking, pump up heart function. Both strength training – like lifting weights – and cardiovascular activity tamp down insulin resistance and help manage blood sugar levels. Remember to be active all through the day. An American Cancer Society study finds that too much sitting is linked to early death in 14 diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly, and limit your sedentary time.
- Get started: Find a few minutes here and there to move in any way you like. Take a 15-minute walk after lunch, jump on a stationary bike for 10 minutes before stating your dinner prep, rake some leaves or toss a ball with your kids or your dog. Get up for a few minutes every 30 – 60 minutes of sedentary time. Learn more about getting out of that chair! If you’re struggling to form the exercise habit, get started with 5 minutes every day or 5 minutes every weekday. Your habit will come faster than if your goal is to exercise 30 minutes twice weekly.
- Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. These foods are tops for cancer prevention, as well as preventing inflammation, insulin resistance, and heart disease. They provide a host of disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fibers and phytonutrients (aka phytochemicals aka health-boosters). Aim for a variety of foods from plants to get at least 30 grams of dietary fiber daily. Include 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits each day, and at least three servings of legumes weekly.
- Get started: Plant slant your plate by swapping out some animal foods for more plant foods, or simply reduce your portions of meats and cheeses to make more room for wholesome plants. Rely on canned and frozen vegetables when fresh aren’t convenient. If you have diabetes, you will likely need to restrict your carbohydrate intake to some amount at each meal and snack (not to zero or a mere 50 grams per day!). Carb control’s important for your blood sugar control, so really focus on making your carb choices wholesome and health-boosting. As you’ve likely read before, there’s a big difference between black beans and jelly beans and oranges and orange sherbet. Here’s the 411 on carbohydrate foods.
- Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fats, starches and sugars. These foods are associated with weight gain, so they indirectly affect your risk for prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and several types of cancer.
- Get started: Pack your lunch the night before, so you have no need to rely on fast food. Keep your pantry stocked with staples that can help you put dinner together very quickly. I always have canned beans, tomatoes, tuna and the like on my shelves. Replace baked goods with a fruit-focused dessert like chocolate-dipped apricots or chocolate peanut butter oat balls. Enjoy a handful of nuts instead of handfuls of potato chips. Have a small baked potato instead of a plate of cheese fries.
- Limit consumption of red and processed meats. Aim to limit red meat (beef, lamb and pork) to no more than 12-18 ounces weekly and to avoid processed meats – like hot dogs, ham and sausage – to lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Too much (which again, doesn’t mean everything more than zero) also is linked to a higher risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Get started: Keep portions of red meats to about the size of a deck of cards. Eat fish a couple times each week. Add your favorite lentil, soy, or bean-based meals – 3-bean salad, lentil chili, black bean soup – to your menu often. Rethink breakfast meats – we really don’t need them.
- Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. Yikes! I think we all know these empty calories don’t help us. Soda, lemonade, punch and other beverages with added sugars give us LOTS of calories and very little, if any, nutrition. They’re linked to weight gain, which is associated with at least 12 types of cancer, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Get started: If you have diabetes, avoid sugary drinks as much as possible and start right now. Otherwise, replace at least one sugary drink daily with water, tea, coffee, or sparkling water with the aim of having sugary beverages only rarely.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption is linked to 6 types of cancer. Large amounts are also linked to more heart disease, diabetes, accidents and more. Research does suggest that small amounts – in the neighborhood of about ½ to 1 standard drink daily lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but neither the American Diabetes Association nor the American Heart Association recommend that you start drinking as a prevention strategy.
- Get started: If you drink, do so in moderation. Moderation has a real definition. It means no more one standard drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. Measure your glass. A standard serving is 5-ounces wine, 12-ounces beer or 1 – 1.5-ounces hard liquor.
Isn’t it great to know that healthy eating isn’t nearly as complicated as many would have us believe? A cancer-prevention diet will give you oodles and oodles of disease fighters for all types of health concerns.
Cheers to enjoying delicious, balanced meals!
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.
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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.