By Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program
In today's age of fad diets and infomercials promoting the latest exercise craze, it's easy to see that weight is a health concern. Besides making you feel more confident and look better, achieving a healthy weight can help reduce your cancer risk. Being overweight or obese has been associated with 14 types of cancer, including breast and pancreatic cancer. Simple changes to your lifestyle can help you reach a healthy weight and make a huge impact on your health.
What is a healthy weight?
A healthy weight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25 kg/m2. Being too thin can be as unhealthy as being too heavy.
How Can You Achieve a Healthy Weight?
Make simple changes to your diet and a commitment to exercise. Exercise guidelines have been set at 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. This boils down to only 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week, which can be done in blocks of as little as 10 minutes. Remember, some activity is better than none so even if you don't reach the weekly goal, keep moving.
Dietary changes can be as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables and choosing whole grains over refined products. Following a vegetarian diet is not necessary, as long as your overall diet is high in fruits and vegetables. Strive to fill up the majority of your plate at each meal with these foods and think of meat and poultry as a side dish.
Can't I Just Take a Pill?
The old adage of taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement as an insurance policy may be outdated. Recent data suggests a basic supplement provides no benefit and may increase risk of death among healthy individuals. It is now recommended, when possible, to obtain nutrients through food, mainly fruits and vegetables, as opposed to supplements. But, a general multivitamin and mineral supplement does still have its place, as some research suggests it has benefit in certain situations, such as men over 50 years of age with a history of cancer. To be on the safe side, only take dietary supplements if recommended by your physician.
To Drink or Not to Drink?
Although alcohol has been shown to have some benefits for heart health, when it comes to cancer the question to drink or abstain remains unclear. Many cancers including breast and esophageal cancer have been linked to alcohol intake. Research also indicates that continuing to drink after being diagnosed with cancer can affect the risk of new primary cancers. The current recommendation is moderation: no more than 1 drink for women or 2 drinks for men per day (1 drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor). Pick an area you can improve and make the change! Even making just one change can reduce your cancer risk.
Is organic better?
If a food is labeled organic, it is grown without pesticides or genetic modifications. Meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are obtained from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. While this may sound like a much better option for your health, to date, epidemiologic studies in humans have not shown that such foods are any more effective at reducing cancer than similar foods produced by other farming and production means.
Is sugar really bad?
The simple answer is no. Based on current research, there is no direct increase in cancer risk or progression when sugar is included in the diet. With that said, we do know there is a link between weight and cancer. Sugary foods contain significant calories which can contribute to weight gain. The key to eating sugar containing foods is moderation. Keep your portion sizes of these foods small to ensure your caloric intake does not exceed what your body needs.