Screening for cancer is not the same thing as preventing cancer. Many of us go for our annual mammograms and colonoscopies, thinking that we are being proactive and preventing cancer. Although these screening exams and tests can be helpful for early detection, a healthy lifestyle is way more important for true prevention.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that at least 33 percent of U.S. cancer cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and choosing a healthy diet. That’s one in every three cases! The key is to create a healthy terrain in your body where cancer is less likely to grow. In addition to the steps outlined by the AICR, we have compiled five important steps each of us can take to create a cancer unfriendly terrain:
- MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT: This is the best-studied, most agreed-upon step we can take to decrease our risk of many cancers. The following steps can help prevent unhealthy weight gain.
- EXERCISE 3 TO 5 HOURS EVERY WEEK: This can be achieved through 45 minutes of movement 5 times a week. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and helps maintain a healthy percentage of body fat.
- CHOOSE WHOLE FOODS: Whole foods are nutrient dense, providing vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that promote health. When we choose non-processed whole foods, we also help maintain our insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a very important hormone in our bodies that regulates our blood sugar level. We want this insulin to remain sensitive to signals in our bodies, such as when our blood sugar increases. Unfortunately, many people develop insulin resistance when they eat processed foods. Insulin resistance has been linked to an increased risk and decreased survival rate from many cancers. To help prevent insulin resistance, be sure to avoid a diet that is high in processed foods and sugar.
- INCREASE YOUR FIBER INTAKE: A good goal is 35 grams of fiber per day. High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds (like ground flax seeds) and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat. Fiber slows the digestion of food and prevents a spike in insulin after you eat. This also helps maintain insulin sensitivity.
- HAVE PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL: Good protein sources include fish, lean poultry, beans, nuts, eggs, meats and whole or fermented soy foods. Make sure to include a few vegetarian options in your daily protein intake. Protein helps prevent blood-sugar spikes, decreasing food cravings and maintaining insulin sensitivity.