Alberta Cancer Foundation

Eating for prevention


There are many factors that contribute to your risk of cancer – genetics, environmental exposure, inactivity and smoking, for instance. But by eating healthy, you can take proactive steps to reduce your risk of developing the disease. Here are some tips to guide your choices:

Follow a plant-based diet: Choose non-starchy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes with no sugar or salt added. Most vegetables are non-starchy, like broccoli, eggplant, bok choy, carrots, rutabaga, turnips, peppers and green leafy vegetables. Examples of starchy vegetables that are not protective against cancer include potatoes and corn. Choose whole grains like brown rice, barley, oats, millet and whole grain wheat instead of refined grains, white flour and white pasta.

Cancer-fighting nutrients: Phytochemicals (plant chemicals) and other plant-based nutrients may help to reduce your risk of cancer. For example, lycopene is found in many red or orange vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and carrots, and may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts) contain a compound called sulforaphane that may also reduce your risk of certain types of cancers.

An easy way to get in the habit of eating more vegetables is to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit. Stir-frying peppers, carrots and onions in olive oil with a bit of ginger and garlic is a quick way to include vegetables on your supper plate, and a simple cucumber and tomato salad is also an easy option when you’re in a rush.

Foods to limit: Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that eating processed meats (which have been salted, cured, smoked or fermented) is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. It also reported that eating red meat may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. In 2007, the WHO recommended that people who eat red meat (beef, pork, lamb) should eat less than 18 ounces (500 grams) cooked weight each week, and that recommendation still stands. That equals about seven servings from the meat and alternatives food group in Canada’s Food Guide, or about three six-ounce (170 gram) steaks a week.

Take-Home Tips:

Pre-cook and freeze unprocessed meat, poultry and fish in individual portions so that it can be used in quick and easy meals like wraps, stir fries and casseroles.

Try a meatless meal at least once a week. Beans, lentils and tofu are high in protein, contain fibre and cost less than meat and poultry. Add chickpeas or beans to salads and soups and make a meatless chili or quesadilla with black, kidney or white beans. You can also try sautéing tofu with vegetables to create a stir-fry or dicing tofu and adding it to tomato sauce with spaghetti for a quick meal.

Substitute lentils for half of the ground beef in recipes, such as pasta sauces, chili, soups and casseroles. Be sure to boil lentils for 10 minutes before adding.