If you've given any thought to cancer prevention, you have probably thought about your diet. Almost every week a new trend is hitting the health food headlines. It can make it almost impossible to settle on what to eat and not eat.
But there is one diet that is consistently proven, over more than two decades, to reduce your risk for cancer. That is a plant-based diet.
Fill two-thirds of your plate with these plant-based foods. The remaining one-third should be lean protein like chicken or fish, or a plant protein like tofu or beans.
It supports your immune system. Plants have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best.
“Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection,” says Andrea Murray, MD Anderson health education specialist. “A plant-based diet strengthens your immune system to protect you against germs and microorganisms.”
A healthy immune system is essential for reducing your risk for cancer because it can recognize and attack mutations in cells before they can progress to disease.
Plant foods reduce inflammation. Plants’ essential nutrients work to resolve inflammation in your body. The same tiny phytochemicals and antioxidants that boost your immune system also go around your body neutralizing toxins from pollution, processed food, bacteria, viruses and more.
“Antioxidants in plants grab all these so-called free radicals that can throw your body off balance,” says Murray. “To reduce inflammation, it’s important to eat plant-based and to listen to your body’s signals for how foods work for you.”
Prolonged inflammation can damage your body’s cells and tissue and has been linked to cancer and other inflammatory diseases like arthritis. A plant-based diet may protect you because it removes some of the triggers to these diseases.
A plant-based diet helps maintain a healthy weight. Staying at a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk for cancer. When it comes to cancer, the only thing more important than maintaining a healthy weight, is not smoking.
This is because excess weight causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance. If you are overweight or obese, your risk is higher for 12 different types of cancerincluding colorectal, post-menopausal breast, uterine, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers.
If you eat mostly plants, you remove many of the foods that lead to weight gain. Add in exercise and you’re on a path towards weight loss.
Plants are high in fiber. Fiber is present in all unprocessed plant foods. It is what makes up the structure of the plant, and if you eat more of it you access a whole host of benefits.
Eating a plant-based diet improves the health of your gut so you are better able to absorb the nutrients from food that support your immune system and reduce inflammation. Fiber can lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar and it’s great for good bowel management.
Fiber is very important for reducing your cancer risk. This is especially true for your risk for the third most common cancer: colorectal cancer.
A plant-based diet reduces your risk for other diseases too. The benefits of eating mostly plants are not limited to reducing your cancer risk.
A plant-based diet also has been shown to reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some mental health illnesses.
Make sure your plant-based meals are healthy
This means deep-fried vegetables are out. So are highly processed foods like crackers and cookies.
Limit sugary desserts as well and make sure you are picking whole grains. Regular pasta, white bread and white rice may be plant products, but they are not made from whole grains. Choose 100% whole wheat pasta and bread, and eat brown rice.
Choosing plants will help all your body’s systems work the best they can.
“We just have to eat plants. They are so important for our body’s long term health,” says Murray.