Eating to Beat Cancer

By Charlyn Fargo

August 30, 2019 5 min read

Do we all worry about getting cancer? Hasn't it affected someone close to you in some way? My mother survived breast cancer twice. Two friends succumbed to ovarian cancer. Another very young friend is battling a rare cancer of the blood. The lifetime risk of cancer in the U.S. is 1 in 3, according to the American Cancer Society.

Here's the good news: More than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthier food choices, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping active. That sounds so easy, but in reality, small choices we make every day make a huge difference in our chances of keeping cancer at bay.

Here are some very practical things you can do to help prevent cancer:

1. Eat more plant-based foods. I don't think you have to cut out meat entirely, but when you plan your meals, add an extra side of veggies or fruit or have them as a snack.

2. Choose fish or poultry most often and choose processed meats — bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats — less often. Less often doesn't mean never, just less often.

3. For snacks, choose fruit, veggies or a handful of nuts and seeds rather than chips, pretzels, cookies or candy. This also helps reduce your intake of salty foods.

4. The nutrition trend these days is to choose more whole, unprocessed foods. But these buzzwords can be confusing because nearly all foods are processed to some extent. That doesn't mean don't eat canned or frozen foods. It means make it yourself from scratch rather than fixing food from a box.

5. Choose food over supplements. I'm still a believer in taking a multivitamin if you think you aren't getting enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains (and most of us aren't). But at the same time, I think we have to prioritize healthy eating. A cheeseburger with fries doesn't have all the nutrients we need on a daily basis. Can you substitute a fruit cup for the fries or add a vegetable side?

6. Consider the scale. Having a body mass index of 30 or higher has been linked to at least 13 different types of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Make it your mission to exercise and lose weight to get your BMI closer to 25. Losing weight requires good choices at most meals. If you haven't had a salad in a while, choose one, and go easy on the dressing.

The bottom line is you can help prevent cancer in your own life. It all boils down to those daily choices.

Q and A

Q: What is the best oil to use in a recipe?

A: Virtually all liquid vegetable oils are preferred over solid fats. So you can't go wrong with canola, soybean, corn and olive oil, as well as sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and peanut or other nut/seed oils. Oils are made of a mix of unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids). Despite all the marketing hype, oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are not as healthy, because they are mostly made of saturated fatty acids, linked to elevated LDL cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet by replacing it with better-for-you unsaturated fats, either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.


I'm a fan of edamame — that oblong bean packed with protein and low in calories. In the shell, it's a great appetizer to order at an Asian restaurant. Out of the shell, add edamame to a salad or stir-fry for great flavor. Here's a recipe from Eating Well for a Greek salad with edamame.


1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

8 cups chopped romaine (about 2 romaine hearts)

16 ounces frozen shelled edamame (about 3 cups), thawed

1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes

1/2 European cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives

1/4 cup slivered red onion

Whisk vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add romaine, edamame, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, basil, olives and onion; toss to coat. Serves 4 (2 3/4 cups each).

Per serving: 343 calories; 17 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugars (0 grams added); 23 grams fat (5 grams sat); 17 milligrams cholesterol; 9 grams fiber; 486 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and a spokesperson for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: dbreen at Pixabay

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