Cancer (Lesson 17)

Mary May, Armentor, Mandy

Cancer in America

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in America. Presently, one out of every four deaths in this country is from cancer.

Louisiana has the third-highest number of cancer deaths among all the states. In 2010, 20,950 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the state of Louisiana. Making up the majority of the 20,950 new cases were prostate, lung, breast and colon cancers. More people die from lung cancer in Louisiana than any other type.

What You Will Learn

Although we still do not know how to prevent all cancers, we now know that a healthy diet and lifestyle may help prevent some cancers. The risk of developing cancer is increased by hereditary, environmental and lifestyle factors, such as the food you eat, tobacco use, exposure to chemicals and lack of exercise. Did you know that diet is one major environmental factor in developing cancer? This lesson will focus on foods you need to eat to help you decrease your risk of cancer.

An estimated 35% of cancer deaths are associated with what we eat. This lesson will teach you about healthy lifestyle behaviors that you can control. The action you take could lead to your not getting cancer. You will learn what you can do now and for the rest of your life to reduce your cancer risk.

MyPlate Review

MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans food guides are tools that help us select what foods to eat and how much to eat each day to stay healthy. We need to eat a variety of food, especially from the following groups: protein, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. We need to eat in moderation by eating the recommended serving sizes. The food guides help us choose healthy, low-fat foods each day.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate, the Food Guides

MyPlate is divided into 5 essential groups: vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains and dairy. According to MyPlate, approximately half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, the remaining half should have grains and proteins and either a cup of dairy or a portion of dairy should be added to the plate. When choosing fruits and vegetables, remember that the more colors that are on the plate, the more nutrients, vitamins and minerals are present. For a 2,000-calorie diet, about 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables are recommended per day. For grains, be sure to get at least 6 servings (1 oz counts as 1 serving). At least 3 of those 6 servings should be from whole-grain sources such as whole-grain rice, whole-grain cereals and whole-grain bread products. The protein portion of the plate should contain lean meats and other protein products such as nuts, seeds and beans. For protein, about 5.5 oz-equivalents is recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet. MyPlate suggests that dairy products in the diet should come from low-fat sources such as reduced-fat, low-fat and skim products. Approximately 3 cups of dairy products are recommended per day. Also, when choosing food items try to aim for fiber-rich foods such as broccoli, apples, beans and whole-grain breads.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol should be counted as extra calories. Excessive alcohol consumption may increase breast, mouth and liver cancer risk. Alcohol consumption is not recommended. Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. It is illegal for children and adolescents under the age of 21 to drink alcohol. One drink is 12 ounces of beer OR 5 ounces of wine OR 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines also suggest that we cut back on solid fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats consumption. Saturated and trans fats primarily come from fatty meats, whole-fat dairy products, baked goods and processed food items. Added sugars should be avoided or limited if possible. Good examples of items with added sugars include sports drinks, baked goods and fruit juices that are not 100% juice. Due to the increasing number of health issues associated with excessive sodium consumption, the Dietary Guidelines recommend reducing overall salt/sodium intake. The main sources of high-sodium products include processed, fried, smoked, cured and pickled foods.


Ways to Lower Your Risk of Developing Cancer

1. Keep a Healthy Weight

Keeping a healthy weight may be one of the simplest ways to lower risk for cancer. High intakes of saturated fats from meats and dairy products, regular intake of charred and nitrate-cured meats, and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with development of cancers. Other major risk factors include smoking, lack of physical activity and excessive body fat. Studies show that animals fed low-calorie diets had fewer tumors (cancer) than those fed high-calorie diets. As the amount of calories eaten decreased, fewer animals developed tumors. Also, lower calorie consumption resulted in fewer and smaller tumors in animals.

Studies indicate that people who consistently eat a lot of fruit and vegetables appear to be about half as likely to develop cancer. Diets high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of esophagus, stomach, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers. Four servings of fruits (2 cups) and 5 servings of vegetables (2.5 cups) per day are recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet. Possible protection comes from dietary fiber, antioxidant vitamins, folate, phytochemicals and other beneficial substances in plant foods.

Antioxidants are chemical substances that prevent or repair cell damage caused by exposure to free radicals. Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E all function as antioxidants.

Color is the clue for beta-carotene. Deep-orange fruits and vegetables and deep-green vegetables are high in beta-carotene. The deeper the color, the more beta-carotene the fruit or vegetable has. Now it's your turn. Which has more beta-carotene, lettuce or turnip greens? That's right! Turnip greens are a deeper green color than lettuce, so they contain more carotene. Other good food sources of beta-carotene include carrots, canned pumpkin, spinach, cantaloupe and sweet potatoes.

Food Tip: Eat a carrot a day for carotene!

Vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, also works as an antioxidant. Vitamin C may help lower the risk of cancers of the stomach and esophagus. Vitamin C is found in foods like oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, berries, peppers, green leafy vegetables and potatoes.

Food Tip: Drink orange juice or grapefruit juice when you eat bacon, sausage and hot dogs. 

Orange juice and grapefruit juice are good sources of vitamin C. They may help prevent the possible formation of carcinogens (substances known to cause or promote cancer) from nitrites in cured meat. 

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that also works as an antioxidant. Certain fruits and vegetables are sources of fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin E seems to block the development and growth of cancer in more ways than vitamin C. Patients with lung cancer are reported to have low levels of vitamin E in their blood. Vegetable sources of vitamin E include leafy greens and asparagus.

2. Eat foods containing Phytochemicals.

It is important to include other cancer-protective foods in your diet. These foods are sources of phytochemicals. The word phytochemicals means chemicals from plants that perform important functions in the body.

Phytochemicals are natural, non-nutrient chemicals in plants that may be protective against cancer. Color code your plate for maximum photochemical benefits with fruits and vegetables.

Red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon and red peppers contain lycopene, which is beneficial for heart health, memory function, lowering cancer risk and urinary tract health.

Green fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and avocados contain lutein and indoles, which are beneficial for decreased cancer risk, vision health and strong bones and teeth.

White fruits and vegetables such as cauliflower, bananas, potatoes and garlic contain selenium and allicin, which help with heart health and heart-healthy cholesterol levels and lower cancer risk.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, eggplant, grapes and raisins contain anthocyanins and phenolic phytochemicals, which are beneficial for lowering cancer risk, urinary tract health, memory function and healthy aging.

Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables such as grapefruits, oranges, pineapples, carrots, corn and squash contain carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which are essential for heart health, a healthy immune system, healthy vision and a decreased risk of cancers.

3. Eat Foods High in Fiber

Plant foods such as whole-grain or enriched breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber. Some studies suggest a link between diets high in dietary fiber and lower rates of colon cancer, but it isn't clear why. Further research is necessary to determine if and how fiber decreases the risk of colon cancer.

Add whole-grain or enriched breads, cereals, rice and pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables to your low-fat eating plan. Be adventurous! Try one new whole-grain bread or cereal, fruit or vegetable each month. Expand your tastes to enjoy a variety of foods.

Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables give you a double whammy! They are high in both dietary fiber and vitamin E. Both dietary fiber and vitamin E may help protect you from cancer.

Whole grains, including durum wheat found in most pasta, are a good source of the mineral selenium. Selenium can help prevent prostate, lung and colorectal cancers. A diet rich in whole grains can easily provide the recommended dietary allowance of selenium without the need for supplements.

Eat an average of 9 servings (4.5 cups) each day of vegetables and fruits and 6 servings (1 serving = 1 ounce-equivalent) each day of grain products. At least half of your grains should be whole grains.

4. Cut Back on Fat

High-fat diets have been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancers. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that only 25% to 35% of our total calories for the day should come from fat. Saturated fat intake should be reduced to less than 10% of total calories. The type of fat we consume is more important (trans fat intake should be kept to a minimum) than the amount of fat we consume.

Saturated fat and trans fat are the most unhealthy types of fats. Saturated fat is found in foods that come from animals, such as the white fat on red meats, chicken fat, whole milk, whole cheese and yogurt, butter, lard, cream and ice cream. Many animal studies show that tumor (cancer) growth is increased most by the consumption of saturated and trans fat, less by polyunsaturated fat and least by monounsaturated fat.

Follow these healthy tips:

1. Eat canned or fresh salmon and mackerel. They contain omega-3 fatty acids that seem to lower cancer risk. Use soybean oil instead of safflower and corn oil since it also protects from cancer.

2. A quick way to choose products lower in fat is to look for the words "low" or "reduced" on the label. These terms are easy to see and mean that the product has less fat than the regular product.

Recommended reading:

What is Cancer?

The word cancer refers to an assortment of diseases that result from the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Cancer is not contagious and has many causes.

Cancer Health Claims on Food Labels

You might have read a statement on a food label like this one: "Development of cancer depends on many factors. A diet low in total fat may reduce the risk of some cancers." This is an example of a health claim about that food or component in that food. A health claim on the food label is any claim that describes the relationship between a substance (food or food component) and a disease or health-related condition. To have a health claim on a food label, a food must meet certain nutrient criteria set by the government. Only the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can regulate foods that may carry health claims. Cancer is one of the areas in which health claims are allowed. In fact, other health claims on labels are about cancer relationships. The three areas in which cancer health claims are allowed are:

  1. Dietary fat and cancer
  2. Fiber-containing foods (including grains, fruits, vegetables) and cancer
  3. Fruits and vegetables and cancer

Should You Take Supplements?

Health experts agree that it is better to get nutrients from food rather than relying on vitamin, mineral or fiber supplements. Foods contain combinations of many important nutrients that are not found in supplements. If you think you may need a supplement, check with your doctor.


Keep in mind three important things you need to do to lower your risk of cancer:

  1. Eat a healthy diet throughout your lifetime.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.

Eating right, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can cut cancer risk by 30% to 40%. Also, be sure to eat at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day (for a 2,000-calorie diet). This could cut cancer risk by more than 20%. Eat foods high in fiber. Cut back on fat. Read food labels and drink tea, not alcohol.

American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Nutrition Hotline

The American Institute for Cancer Research's Nutrition Hotline is a free service that answers questions about nutrition and health. Staffed by registered dietitians, the Hotline attempts to provide answers to a wide variety of nutrition and health questions, not just those relating to diet and cancer. The Hotline and its staff, however, cannot provide medical advice. The toll-free number for the AICR Nutrition Hotline is 800-843-8114. The service is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. When you call, an operator will take your question, your phone number and the best time for an AICR nutritionist to return your call, usually within 48 hours. A registered dietitian will research your question and return your call to provide personal answers to your question. There is no charge.

2/3/2010 11:04:57 PM
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