To Cancer Care Products: Nutrition

Those dietary factors which can affect cancer risk include food type, method of preparation, size of portion, food variety, and overall caloric balance. Current recommendations suggest that a diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans; and limited in meat, dairy products, and other high-fat foods is most likely to reduce cancer risk. Regular physical activity also is important. Four broad guidelines are presented by the American Cancer Society and shown in Table 1.

Table 1
American Cancer Society Guidelines
on Diet, Nutition, and Cancer Prevention
  1. Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources.
    • Eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day
    • Eat other foods from plant sources, such as breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta, or beans several times each day
  2. Limit your intake of high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources
    • Choose foods low in fat
    • Limit consumption of meats, especially high-fat meats
  3. Be physically active: Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
    • Be at least moderately active for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week
    • Stay within your healthy weight range
  4. Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, if you drink at all

It is important to note that each food group contains multiple vitamins, minerals, and nutrients which are balanced in a variety of ways. The balance of these nutrients is complex and, in many cases, incompletely understood. Several studies do, however, suggest that the consumption of a single nutrient in large amounts can produce adverse affects. A diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans appears to be most likely to reduce cancer risk. Beans are rich in nutrients that can protect against cancer and are a low-fat, high protein alternative to meats. Saturated fat not only can increase the risk of developing cancer, but has been incriminated in the genesis of heart disease. Standard portion sizes are shown in Table 2.

Table 2
Standard Portion Sizes for Various Foods*
1 medium apple, banana, orange
1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
3/4 cup of fruit juice
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of other cooked or chopped raw vegetables
3/4 cup vegetable juice
1 slice bread
1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal
1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta
Beans and Nuts
1/2 cup cooked dry beans
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 cup nuts
Dairy foods and eggs
1 cup milk or yogurt
1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese
2 ounces processed cheese
1 egg
2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, fish
*Information from US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services.

In most cases, these portions are relatively small and four or five portions each day can be consumed relatively easily.

See also, The Role of Vitamins, Specific Nutrients and the Development of Cancer


The precise role of diet and physical activity in the reduction of cancer risk remains to be defined. It is clear, however, that a high fat diet, obesity, and a sedantery lifestyle do predispose to the development of cancer, as well as to coronary artery disease. Although diet and physical activity have no proven benefit in curing an existing cancer or reducing the risk of a recurrence, cancer prevention obviously would save many lives in the absence of any advances in treatment.