On June 9th, the American Cancer Society published new dietary and physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention. The new guidelines consist of three primary components – exercise, a plant-strong diet, and limiting alcohol. They also call out red and processed meats and refined and highly processed foods for their cancer risk, as well as sugar and saturated fats.
Physical activity has dropped over the decades as we’ve adopted lifestyles of convenience, aided by technology. It is now important to be conscious of physical activity and work it into our schedules, especially for those of us working desk jobs. It is a good idea to get up and move around as much as possible throughout the day, and to plan in some time for exercise after work.
As the article says, less time sitting in front of a TV or screen and more time moving is key. In order to combine TV time with exercise, hopping on a treadmill or elliptical while watching is a great idea. Playing sports with friends or the kids, or even mowing the lawn count as physical activity as well. The goal is for the weekly total to reach 150-300 minutes of moderate activity. To break that down – 150 minutes is roughly half an hour per day, five days per week.
The part to get most excited about, are the dietary guidelines. Plant-based nutrition expert Dr. Neal Barnard has been talking about diet for disease prevention for years. As president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), he was quick to review the guidelines on PCRM program The Exam Room Live, hosted by Chuck Carroll.
“It sounds a whole lot like the new four food groups that we brought forward first in 1991, and have been promoting ever since,” Barnard says. Indeed, the new guidelines do encourage those exact four food groups – fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It also discourages red meats which were named in 2015 by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 2 carcinogens, as well as processed meats, which IARC named as Group 1 carcinogens.
The new guidelines point out that focus has shifted in recent years, from individual nutrients, to dietary patterns as a whole. At long last, the key to the cancer prevention lock has been found. While American Cancer Society still allows for fish and chicken – a stance that PCRM does not promote – it is now recommending legumes as a healthy protein source. It even goes on to mention soy products, which have spent a fair amount of time under attack over the years, as protective against cancer.
Also a major player in the new guidelines are leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage, which have shown to be particularly protective against cancer. That may come as no surprise to many, but what may come as a surprise in the days of “low-carb”, are the protective properties of whole grains.
Whole grains, which have not been stripped of their outer shell or refined from their original, whole state, have actually been shown to not only protect against cancer due to their nutrients and fiber content, but also actually help with weight loss! Tell that to the Keto movement, which has us believing that carbohydrates are the root of all evil in the American diet and are responsible for the obesity crisis. Simply put – that is misinformation. When carbs are not refined or processed, they shrink our waist lines.
Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, author of the new book Fiber Fueled, should be thrilled to see fiber get a special mention among these guidelines. Dr. B, as he calls himself, is a gastroenterologist who has studied the bacteria in our gut microbiome, and the effect fiber has on gut health, as well as the health of the whole body. Indeed, American Cancer Society affirms the link between fiber and gut bacteria, and the role it plays in some cancers. As for the best source of that fiber – whole foods; supplements have shown little benefit. More whole grains and less fiber? That means skip the sugar and processed foods.
While American Cancer Society is not yet stating conclusively that dairy products are problematic for cancer, it has finally admitted that studies are finding an increase in prostate cancer and possibly breast cancer risk, and it is now abstaining from dairy guidelines of any kind. Not quite to the point of “eliminate diary from the diet,” but a noticeable step in that direction.
Finally, the guidelines address alcohol. The article specfically states, “Alcohol use is the third most important preventable risk factor for cancer, after tobacco use and excess body weight. Alcohol use accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the United States. Despite this, public awareness about the cancer-causing effects of alcohol remains low.”
When it comes to alcohol, less is best. What amount is considered safe? One alcoholic drink, defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits, per day for a woman, or two alcoholic drinks per day for a man. It discourages drinking larger amounts on fewer days of the week. When it comes to some cancers, such as breast cancer, no amount of alcohol is considered safe.
In his book Eat to Live, Dr. Joel Fuhrman says “a cancer promoting diet is one high in animal proteins and fats. A cancer preventing diet is one rich in fruits and vegetables.” How incredible it is to be able to prevent cancer, along with a wealth of other diseases, every time we go to the grocery store. In the words of Dr. Neal Barnard, “we don’t want to invite [cancer] into our homes with our groceries.” And now, thanks to the new guidelines by American Cancer Society, more people will get to learn how to prevent cancer with diet.