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Eat a healthy diet to help prevent disease

By Elizabeth Hall, MS, RDN, LDN • Oct 2, 2019 at 12:00 AM

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While genetics definitely plays a role in risk of cancer, good nutrition has also been linked to chronic disease prevention, including some cancers. In fact, it is estimated that one-third of deaths related to cancer in the United States are associated with diet. Here are some general guidelines for a healthy diet for disease prevention.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables provides antioxidants that fight inflammation and can help prevent disease. Certain vegetables called cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or broccoli may be especially protective against breast cancer. Beta-carotene found in carrots, sweet potatoes and mangoes is converted to vitamin A in the body and may help inhibit the production of cancer cells. Various parts of the pomegranate fruit also have important antioxidant effects and are preventative against breast cancer.

Be plant-based. Plant-based proteins like high-fiber beans, legumes, soy, seeds and whole grains also support immune health by contributing to a healthy gut. Being plant-based, doesn’t mean “plant-only.” Lean proteins like chicken, fish and lean meats can be incorporated into a healthful eating pattern. However, most Americans do not get enough plants, so making sure to include produce and plant-based proteins daily can do wonders for your health.

Focus on healthy fats. Including more omega-3’s from fish and seafood and unsaturated fats from oils, nuts and seeds can help keep your heart healthy and are anti-inflammatory. Just two servings of fish and seafood per week provide adequate omega-3 fatty acids.

Think about cooking method. Certain cooking methods can increase heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are potentially carcinogenic. Factors that increase cancer-causing activity include meats that are high in fat, cooking at a temperature higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than two minutes, and charring or smoking foods. To decrease the amount of HCAs, choose leaner, well-trimmed meats, use a marinade, or cut meats in smaller portions so they cook faster.

Overall, eating the right amount of calories for your body also lowers cancer risk. Watching portion sizes and being active are great ways to start!

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