Nutrition: A powerful tool against cancer

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October is widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’d like to offer some motivation to encourage everyone to consider a quick review of what you eat everyday. While what you eat may or may not prevent cancer, we can certainly choose foods that may be protective against it.

First off, make sure to enjoy a wide variety of foods from all five food groups. Consider visiting for a whole host of helpful tools to get you started. By incorporating as many foods groups as you can into your meals, you will ensure you are able to get an adequately balanced diet with all the nutrients your body needs for overall good health.

As you work on expanding the variety of healthy food in your diet, focus especially on getting enough fruits and vegetables. Selecting ones with vibrant colors: berries, plums, peppers, carrots, leafy, and tomatoes, just to name a few. Not only are they good for you, they can make your plate more attractive. The recommended goal is to eat at least five servings a day, about 2 to 2 1/2 cups.

Next, try to add whole grains whenever possible. Choosing less processed versions of your favorite foods, such as cereal or bread, is an easy place to start. Popcorn is a fun snack that provides whole grains and doesn’t add a lot of extra calories. Have some fun with other grains like quinoa, teff and barley.

Consider adopting a meatless meal once in a while. Making beans or lentils the focus of your meal instead of having meat as a tasty way to reduce your cancer risk. Plant-based proteins are especially beneficial as they have the added benefit of fiber, too. Not ready to ditch the meat? Then look for lean proteins when planning your meals. Keep in mind moderating serving sizes to about three to four ounces per meal is never a bad idea.

Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados and nuts. Try to add fish to your menu at least once a week. Some studies have shown that these fats may help reduce inflammation which is associated with lowering breast cancer risk.

What about soy? It’s best to choose whole soy products over soy protein isolates. Good sources of whole soy foods include tofu, edamame (green soybeans boiled or steamed in their pods), roasted soy nuts or soy milk. Soy protein isolates are mostly likely found in power bars, meat analogs, and nutritional beverages. Reading the ingredients of these foods will help you locate them.

Finally, consider limiting alcohol to one serving or less per day. While there has been some compelling evidence that alcohol intake increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer, the amount remains controversial. A serving of alcohol is equal to 12 ounces of regular beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits or five ounces of table wine.

When it comes to understanding nutrition, don’t underestimate the help a registered dietitian can offer. We not only provide evidenced based information, but also help you come up with a plan to make your health goals achievable.

Mary Koch is a registered dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and the VA Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic. Send your nutrition questions to Mary at


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