10 ways to change your food habits and prevent cancer!

Our expert Neha Chandna tells how you can use food to prevent cancer and stay healthy.

Although the exact cause of cancer is still not known, some studies [1] suggest that a large percentage of cancer-related deaths are linked to lifestyle choices. Just like smoking, drinking and lack of exercise has an effect on the overall health, eating the right diet play a key in lowering your risk of cancer. Eating the right foods can boost immunity and overall well-being and can also reduce your risk of cancer to a great extent. And ignoring proper diet and eating unhealthy food can trigger cancerous growth. However, if you change your diet and behaviour, you can minimize your risk of disease and possibly even stop cancer in its tracks. Here are 10 food guidelines you need to follow to lower your risk of cancer.

1. Eat more fresh produce: Focus more on plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, pulses etc. Start your day with fruits and nuts. Have some whole grain cereal for breakfast. Make sure to have a big portion of salad with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot, cucumbers, etc pre-lunch and pre-dinner. Carry snacks like fruits, trail mixes (sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, almonds, walnuts etc), opt for sandwiches with multigrain breads and lot of veggies in it. Studies [2] have shown that people who consumed less amount of fruits and vegetables were twice likely to suffer from cancer as compared to the ones who consumed adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. Fruits in particular are said to be protective against cancer of esophagus, larynx and cancers related to the oral cavity. There are evidences to point out that high intake of fruits and vegetable have a protective effect from cancer of pancreas and stomach, colorectal and bladder, cervix, ovary and endometrium.

2. Increase your fiber intake: Fiber is the key component to lower your risk of cancer. All plant based foods are rich in fiber which helps to keep your digestive system clean and healthy and push the cancer causing compounds out of the gut before they can harm you. You can add fiber to your diet by replacing white rice with brown rice, eating the fruits with skin, choosing popcorn over potato chips etc. Some studies [3] also suggest that dietary intake of fiber is inversely associated with the risk of cancer. Here is a 7-day fiber-rich vegetarian diet plan to up your fibre intake.

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3. Avoid processed foods: The more you eat food in its original form, the better protection it offers to the body. For example instead of drinking orange juice, peel and eat the orange or prepare oatmeal porridge with raisins rather than having an oatmeal raisin cookie. Also read about healthy ways to cut down on eating processed foods

4. Cut down on red meat and whole fat milk: As research shows that vegetarians are about fifty percent less likely to develop cancer than those who eat meat. That is because meat and milk lack fiber, antioxidants and nutrients that have cancer protective properties and is high on saturated fat which is linked with increased risk of cancer. But you don t need to eliminate meat completely. A good visual reminder is to have 2/3rd of your plate filled with plant foods and 1/3rd of it with meat and dairy products. You can cut them down by cutting animal products to a palm-size, adding some salads or beans to it rather than using it as the main element. Choose fish or lean chicken as they are low on fat, avoid processed meats like sausages, salamis etc. Some studies [4] also suggest that high consumption of processed meat can increase the risk of stomach cancer due to dietary nitrosamines present in them. Read to know more if eating non-vegetarian food is healthy for you.

5. Choose your fats smartly: Saturated and trans fats are demons for health, so limit them. Saturated fats (bad fats) are found in butter, ghee, eggs, whole fat milk and red meats and trans fats are found in processed and junk foods like burgers, pizzas etc. On the other hand unsaturated fats (good fats) like MUFA and PUFA are found in oils that are liquid at room temperature eg: olive oil, ricebran oil, etc. The other sources of unsaturated fats are avocados, nuts like walnuts, almonds etc. Also, focus on omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include fish like salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds. You can add them by eating fish once or twice a week, adding flaxseeds to your salad, avoiding fried foods, checking the label for bad fats. Studies have shown that diets hing in fats have been associated with high risk of colorectal cancers, with saturated fats being specifically implicated. While for breast cancer the total fat content in the body stands to a risk factor. Hence, it is better to cut down on fats.

6. Opt for cancer-fighting foods: You immune system needs to be strong to fight against cancer causing agents. You need to eat a variety of colourful foods with antioxidants (vitamin A, C, E and selenium) and phytochemicals that help strengthen immunity and fight diseases. Such foods are tomatoes, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, grapes, cranberry, carrots, cabbage, garlic, onions, grapefruits, blueberries, chilli peppers, jalapeno, soy products like tofu etc. Green tea is also antioxidant rich, so replace your black tea with three cups of green tea per day.

7. Drink plenty of water: Increase your intake of water as it helps to eliminate toxins from the body and supply nutrients to the cancer cells which can kill and prevent them from multiplying. Avoid sugary drinks like colas, juices etc as they increase inflammation and cancer growth.

8. Preserve nutrients when you cook: Wash the vegetables and fruits with a brush to remove all pesticide residues. Eat raw as much as possible, this helps retain the nutrients. Steam the vegetables using very little water. Prevent over-heating of oil as it can become carcinogenic. Here are 13 cooking hacks you should know about.

9. Adopt healthy cooking habits: Instead of deep-frying, pan-frying, and saut ing, opt for healthier methods such as baking, boiling, steaming, or broiling. Also, store oils in a cool dark place to avoid it from becoming rancid, . Use microwave friendly containers of good quality to prevent plastic material interaction with food.

10. Avoid eating rancid foods: Avoid foods that look or smell mouldy, as they are likely to contain aflatoxin, a strong carcinogen. Nuts will stay fresh longer if kept in the refrigerator or freezer.


1. Block G, Patterson B, Subar A. Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: a review of the epidemiological evidence. Nutr Cancer. 1992;18(1):1-29. Review. PubMed PMID: 1408943.

2. Park Y, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, Bergkvist L, Berrino F, van den Brandt PA, Buring JE, Colditz GA, Freudenheim JL, Fuchs CS, Giovannucci E, Goldbohm RA, Graham S, Harnack L, Hartman AM, Jacobs DR Jr, Kato I, Krogh V, Leitzmann MF,McCullough ML, Miller AB, Pietinen P, Rohan TE, Schatzkin A, Willett WC, Wolk A, Zeleniuch-Jacquotte A, Zhang SM, Smith-Warner SA. Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer: a pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. JAMA. 2005 Dec 14;294(22):2849-57. PubMed PMID: 16352792.

3. Larsson SC, Bergkvist L, Wolk A. Processed meat consumption, dietary nitrosamines and stomach cancer risk in a cohort of Swedish women. Int J Cancer. 2006 Aug 15;119(4):915-9. PubMed PMID: 16550597.

4. La Vecchia C. Cancers associated with high-fat diets. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 1992;(12):79-85. PubMed PMID: 1616815.

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