The best cancer-prevention diet

I listened to a great webinar yesterday from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), “Eating Patterns to Lower Cancer Risk: More than One Route to a Plant-Based Diet.” AICR is one of the two not-for-profit organizations (the World Cancer Research Fund is the other), leading the way in understanding the complicated link between diet and cancer. The presenters were Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN and Sharon Palmer, RDN. I had an opportunity to meet Collins briefly at a few Nutrition Entrepreneur networking events at FNCE, and I have Palmer’s book The Plant-Powered Diet.

Collins talked about the science behind various diet (or eating patterns) that have been directly associated with a reduced risk of cancer, or indirectly related (i.e., they help reduce systemic inflammation or oxidative stress and improve insulin sensitivity, all of which in turn are believed to reduce cancer risk). The eating patterns discussed were:
Most of these eating patterns have been the subject of research studies suggesting that they reduce cancer risk (the Mediterranean diet has the largest body of research behind it). However, while they all carry the common theme of being plant-based (i.e., the majority of the foods eaten are some combination of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds), with most of those plants being vegetables, they are not identical. Some include animal-based foods, some do not. Some are relatively high in fat, some are extremely low.
There is no single “best” eating pattern, in part because different people have different genetic makeup and differing abilities to metabolize the health-promoting phytochemicals in plant foods. We also vary in the makeup of our intestinal microbiota, our body composition, our level of physical activity, our overall state of health, our lifestyle (including how much time we have to cook) and our food preferences. In general, Collins said, a healthy (and cancer-preventive) eating pattern:
  • Is predominantly plant-focused
  • Includes complex carbohydrates (and limits refined carbohydrates)
  • Limits red meat and processed meat
  • Includes healthy fat sources (although the amount of fat doesn’t define whether a diet is healthy)
  • Includes the right level of calories to promote a healthy weight
  • Includes alcohol only in limited amounts
  • Is a long-term habit
  • Is part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and stress management
Above all, Collins said that the whole of the diet is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and that the right eating pattern for a particular person meets their individual needs and is part of a joyous, healthy lifestyle. (Yes!)

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of Sharon Palmer’s tips for crafting your own healthy plant-based eating style.