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Help Defend Against Cancer with Healthy Nutrition

Eating a healthy diet, including regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight are the best defenses against some types of cancers.


Focus on Plant Foods


Plant foods contain fiber and other nutrients that keep our body healthy. Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Aim for at least five servings (or 2 ½ cups) of fruits and vegetables each day.


One serving of fruits and vegetables may include:

  • one medium piece of fruit
  • ½ cup fruit
  • ½ cup raw non-leafy or cooked vegetables
  • one cup raw leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup cooked beans or peas 

Lower Your Intake of Red Meat and Processed Meats


Include lean protein sources like poultry without skin, fish, beans, soy, low-fat dairy and lentils. Limit meats such as beef, pork and lamb, which tend to be higher in fat and cholesterol. Avoid meats like ham, bacon, salami, sausage and hot dogs that have preservatives or are preserved by curing, smoking and salting.


Cut Out the Salt


High salt foods may include frozen meals, bread, pizza, canned soups, chips, sauces and processed meats. Daily sodium intake should be less than 2400 milligrams per day. To flavor foods without salt add spices, herbs, lemon/lime juice, vinegar or salt-free seasoning mixes.


Limit Alcohol


Alcoholic beverages are low in nutrients. If you do not drink alcohol, you should not start. If alcohol is consumed, men should limit intake to 2 drinks per day and women to 1 drink per day. Remember one drink is equal to one of the following:

  • 12 oz. beer
  • 4 oz. of wine
  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits

Choose Healthy Drinks


Avoid drinking high sugar beverages every day, like soft drinks or fruit flavored drinks. Choose healthier beverages like water, unsweetened tea and coffee. If you are not a fan of plain water try adding slices of fresh fruit like orange or lime.


What About Organic Foods, GMOs and Food Additives?


Some studies have found that organic produce has more nutrients while others show no difference. Just because a product has organic ingredients does not necessarily mean it is healthier. Organic products can still be high in sugar, salt and fat. If you worry about possible chemical pesticides on produce, you may consider organic varieties. The Environmental Working Group has created a list of the cleanest and dirtiest produce.


Genetically modified foods (GMOs) are made by adding genes from other plants or organisms to improve quality. Genetically modified foods currently on the market are not likely to pose health risk. The bottom line is that we need to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into our diet. No matter how these foods are grown they are still nutritious and contribute to a healthy diet.


Food additives may be added to foods to improve color, flavor and texture. Many food additives are considered safe whereas others are less healthful. The Center for Science in the Public Interest provides information on food additives. To lessen intake of food additives, eat less processed foods. For an example, rather than drinking a glass of apple juice, simply eat a fresh apple.


Kelly Nuckolls is a registered dietitian at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and is devoted to nutrition care for the inpatient oncology service line. These suggestions are not meant to replace talking to your doctor and registered dietitian.