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Step up to the plate

What you eat does more than affect your weight and energy level. In some cases, it can make a difference in your risk of developing cancer. Every year, one-third of the cancer deaths in this country can be attributed to a poor diet, inactivity and being overweight, according to the American Cancer Society.

But don’t throw in the napkin just yet. With some careful preparation, you can reduce your cancer risk at every meal. So pull up a chair and sit down to a hearty helping of prevention:

  1. Go natural. Strive to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, as well as plant-based foods such as whole grains and beans. A diet rich in plant-based foods has been linked to a lower risk of colon, esophageal, lung and stomach cancers.
    Choose a wide variety of brightly colored produce, such as sweet potatoes, collard greens, carrots, summer squash, tomatoes and mangoes.
    Fill up on cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are part of the cabbage family and include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale.
  2. Milk it. If you’re between ages 19 and 50, you should be getting 1,000 mg of calcium daily; if you’re over 50, aim for 1,200 mg. Eating foods high in calcium may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
    Get your calcium from low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, as well as turnip greens, tofu, spinach and salmon.
    Avoid taking large amounts of calcium in supplement form if you’re a male because it could increase your prostate cancer risk.
    Consider a vitamin D supplement. In some studies, higher vitamin D levels have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancers. While products like milk are fortified with vitamin D, it can be hard to get enough from these sources. The minimum recommended intake is 200 to 600 IU daily, depending on your age.
  3. Monitor your meat intake. Eating large amounts of luncheon meats, ham, bacon and hot dogs has been linked to an increased risk of colon and stomach cancers. Some experts blame nitrites, chemicals added to these products to help maintain color and stop bacterial growth.
    Opt for fish, chicken breast and lean cuts of pork (any cut with the word “loin” in it).
    Be careful how you cook meats. Frying, broiling or grilling at very high temperatures forms chemicals that may increase colon cancer risk. Try braising, steaming, poaching or stewing instead.
  4. Banish excess booze. Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of mouth, throat, esophageal, kidney, liver and breast cancers, so consider cutting it out entirely or limit yourself to one drink daily for women, two for men. What’s a drink? Twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor.
  5. Whittle down your weight. Ask your healthcare provider about your ideal weight and take steps to get there (you know the drill: move more, eat less). Maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid cancers of the colon, uterus, esophagus, kidney and, for postmenopausal women, breast.