6 New Diet Rules to Curb Your Cancer Risk

There's no risk—but enormous health benefits—in abiding by these new eating rules, researchers say.

June 11, 2014

Scientists just unveiled a more aggressive anti-cancer diet plan, a set of six dietary guidelines that can help protect you from different forms of the disease. The new diet recommendations will appear in the June 30 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The precautionary approach emphasizes a diet rich in plant-based foods and warns against eating overcooked meats.

"The overall recommendation is to favor plant-based foods," says lead author and Joseph Gonzales, RD, a member of the nonprofit Physicians Committee and a dietitian at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "Plants are rich in protective compounds and help consumers avoid the cancer-causing substances found in animal products. Plant-based foods also have a slimming effect, which reduces risk for all forms of cancer in the long run," he says.


We turned to the Physicians Committee for a breakdown of the results.

6 New Rules of an Anti-Cancer Diet:

#1. Limit or avoid dairy products to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Consuming 35 grams of dairy protein each day, the equivalent of one and a half cups of cottage cheese, increases risk of prostate cancer by 32 percent. Drinking two glasses of milk each day increases risk of prostate cancer by 60 percent. (Instead, try these vegan sources of protein.)

Note: Calcium supplements appear to have the same effect as milk intake. Men who supplement with more than 400 milligrams of calcium per day increase risk for fatal prostate cancer by 51 percent.

#2. Limit or avoid alcohol to reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and breast.
One drink per week increases risk of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers by 24 percent. Two to three drinks per day increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

Note: The alcohol itself (rather than additives) appears to be the cause of cancer, and all types of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) are problematic.

#3.  Avoid red and processed meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.
Each 50-gram daily serving of processed meat, equivalent to two slices of bacon or one sausage link, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. Each 120-gram daily serving of red meat, equivalent to a small steak, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 28 percent.

Note: The heme iron, nitrites, heterocyclic amines, and overabundance of essential amino acids in red and processed meats are all believed to contribute to cancerous cell growth in the body.

#4. Avoid grilled, fried, and broiled meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.
Four types of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are associated with cancer of the colon and rectum. HCAs form from creatine and amino acids in cooked skeletal muscle, and the amount increases with longer cooking times and higher temperatures. When ingested, HCAs can disrupt DNA synthesis.

Note: In addition to the cancers listed above, HCAs are also associated, to a weaker extent, with cancers of the breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.

More: Reduce Grilling Carcinogens by 99 Percent!

#5. Consume soy products to reduce risk of breast cancer and to reduce the risk of recurrence and mortality for women previously treated for breast cancer.
Evidence from Asian and Western countries shows that soy products are associated with reduced cancer risk. Chinese women who consume more than 11.3 grams of soy protein, equivalent to half a cup of cooked soybeans, each day during adolescence have a 43 percent reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, compared with women who consume 1.7 grams. Research in Shanghai shows that women with breast cancer who consume 11 grams of soy protein each day can reduce risk of mortality and recurrence by about 30 percent. 

U.S. populations show similar findings: The higher the isoflavone intake from soy products, the less risk of mortality and recurrence in women with breast cancer. 

Note: When choosing soy products, opt for natural forms, such as edamame, tempeh, or organic tofu, as opposed to soy protein concentrates and isolates, common in powders, pills, and many processed soy foods. Always choose organic if you eat soy because GMO versions can be contaminated with extreme levels of Roundup. (Note: Some people don't tolerate soy well and should avoid it.)

#6. Emphasize fruits and vegetables to reduce risk of several common forms of cancer.
Fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, help reduce overall cancer risk. A high intake of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, is associated with an 18 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and reduced risk of lung and stomach cancers. Women who consume the most carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, lower their risk of breast cancer by 19 percent.

More: Are You Eating These 'New' Powerhouse Fruits and Veggies?

Overall, women who consume the highest quantities of any kind of fruit or vegetable reduce breast cancer risk by 11 percent. Eatings lots of tomato products has been shown to reduce risk of gastric cancer by 27 percent. Garlic and other allium vegetables, such as onions, significantly reduce risk for gastric cancer, while a Western diet (high amounts of meat and fat with minimal amounts of fruits and vegetables) doubles the risk.  

Note:  Some components in soybeans, green tea, turmeric, grapes, tomatoes, and other plant foods have the ability to regulate apoptosis (a natural process for destroying unhealthy cells), an important pathway for cancer prevention.

"There's considerable benefit—and no harm—in loading up with plant-based foods," notes study author Susan Levin, MS, RD, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee. "Large bodies of research show fruits, vegetables, and legumes offer a variety of protective properties, so why not move these foods to the center of our plates?"