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Help Prevent Cancer - Eat More Plants

Research indicates that your diet and lifestyle are directly linked to your risk of developing cancer. Some experts estimate that cancer risks could be reduced 30 – 40 percent by eating a plant-based diet, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight. If you also eliminate smoking, it helps reduce your cancer risks by 60 – 70 percent.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, one in every four deaths in the U.S. is from cancer. Not every case of cancer is the result of a poor diet, but you can reduce your risk of getting cancer by watching what you eat. Your eating habits can contribute to how healthy you are now and in the future.

Research has shown that certain compounds, such as fiber in fruits, vegetables and cereal grains can interfere with the process of cancer development. Therefore, experts agree that eating a diet based mostly on plant foods is a great way to reduce your cancer risk. In other words, eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans than meat and poultry at every meal.

Plant foods contain phytonutrients, which are natural compounds that help prevent cancer. They can help destroy carcinogens before they have a chance to cause cancer or they may slow or stop cancer cells from growing and spreading. Some phytonutrients help reduce cell damage and boost certain enzymes that help get rid of carcinogens.

Benefits of a plant-based diet:

• Helps cut down on animal foods which, when eaten in large quantities, are linked to cancer.
• Provides more fiber, less fat and fewer calories.
• Helps reduce obesity – a risk factor for cancer.
• Protects against diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
• Helps lower your risks for breast, lung, stomach, colon, prostate and some other cancers.
• People who are overweight are more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Overweight women have a higher cancer risk of the uterus, cervix, breast and colon. Overweight men have a higher risk for developing cancer of the colon, rectum, and prostate.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that two-thirds or more of your meal consist of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. The rest (or less) of your meal can include meat, poultry, fish or low-fat dairy foods.

When you go shopping:

• Buy vegetables and fruits that have dark, rich colors because they tend to have a high amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.
• Buy a variety of rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables.
• Red-purple vegetables (beets, carrots, tomatoes, eggplants, Okinawan sweet potatoes)
• Red-purple fruits (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, guavas, grapefruits, cherries)
• Yellow-orange vegetables (sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, yellow squash)
• Yellow-orange fruits (mangoes, papayas, tangerines, oranges, pineapples, starfruits)
• Dark green vegetables (taro leaves, ung choi, broccoli, pak choi, choi sum, spinach, watercress, asparagus)
• Frozen fruits and vegetables are also good to eat. Make sure there is no added sodium.
• Buy canned fruits and vegetables carefully. Some minerals and nutrients may be lost in the canning process. Sometimes salt is added as a preservative for canned vegetables and sugar may be added to canned fruits.
• If you buy canned fruits and vegetables, look for labels that say "low salt," "no added sugar or salt" or "packed in juice."
• Choose 100% juice when you buy fruit or vegetable drinks.
• Find whole grained varieties of whole wheat bread, bagels, pretzels, pasta, English muffins, rice cakes, tortillas, breadsticks, rye crisps, saltines, high fiber cereals, brown or wild rice, spaghetti and macaroni noodles.
• Fresh or jarred salsas are excellent low fat toppings for salads, potatoes and pasta.
• If you buy canned cannellini beans, chickpeas, pinto, black and other types of beans, make sure you rinse them well before adding them to soups, stews, salads and casseroles.
• Olives and avocados are high in fat. Eating too many at one time can provide more calories than other fruits and vegetables.
• Coconuts are high in saturated fat.

Not all plant foods have the same health-promoting compounds so eat a variety of plant foods to get the most out of a plant-based diet. If you have any questions about the foods you eat, talk to your physician or a dietitian.