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How Can Nutrition Reduce Cancer Risk?

by Ms. Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Center

Video by Jonathan Parrish

Being a registered dietitian and daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I understand the importance of using a healthy lifestyle and nutrition to reduce cancer risk. Certain foods high in phytonutrients, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins may reduce cancer risk. These types of foods are usually minimally processed and include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans. Not only are they good for you, but they also help you feel full without excess calories.

Here are some ways to reduce your risk:

  • Eat more cruciferous and dark leafy green vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, collards, mustards and kale.

  • Include more berries and citrus fruits in your diet, like cranberries, blueberries, strawberries and oranges.

  • Eat more plant-based protein, like dried beans, peas and lentils.

  • Include whole grains, like oats, barley, quinoa and wild and brown rice.

  • Cut the excess! Cut excess sugar to avoid extra calories. 

  • Find smart swaps. Use unsweetened fruit as a topping for yogurt or cereal. Choose seltzer water or fruit-infused water. Always make room for vegetables. 

  • Focus on fiber! Are you eating enough fiber?  Some research suggests that eating more fiber -- at least 30 grams per day -- may lower cancer risk. 

  • Eat a variety of unprocessed foods without added sugars, sauces, and creams. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables count as unprocessed.

For more information on ways to cut calories, read Extension publication 3517, “Eat Less and Cut Calories.”

Information on nutrition and decreasing cancer risk can be complicated to navigate. It is important to use reliable, evidenced-based information. 

Here are some ways to determine if the information is reliable:

  1. Consider the source. Websites ending in .gov or .edu are usually trusted sites. Some websites ending in .com may not be trusted sites. Trusted sites will have experts and/or expert panels. For example, if the site focuses on nutrition, check to see if there are registered dietitians writing the articles or speaking on video.  

  2. Research the author’s credentials.

  3. Look for red flags. Are you being sold a product or a miracle cure? These may indicate unreliable information.

  4. Look for current information. What is the date of the article or the date the website was published or updated?

A note about prevention: Lifestyle choices make a difference. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends ten lifestyle choices that can help prevent cancer, including being physically active and breastfeeding when possible.

For the full list of recommendations, visit the American Institute of Cancer Research website.

Remember, nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices can only reduce cancer risk, not eliminate it. For more nutrition information and tips, visit and join the MSU Extension Nutrition and Health Facebook Group.

For more information about cancer prevention, visit the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Institute for Cancer Research, and American Cancer Society websites.

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