Liz's Blog for a Healthier, Happier Life

Top 10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

In 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Research, released a groundbreaking, comprehensive, scientific report on how to reduce cancer risk through diet and physical activity.  In 2008, an updated report was issued.  Last month (May 2018), the newest report was published based on the strongest research yet.  Like previous reports, a team of over 100 highly respected researchers from around the world contributed to this authoritative and rigorous review.  It is a landmark report that deserves your attention.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide.  The Canadian Cancer Society states that about 1 out of every 2 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime and that 1 in 4 will die of the disease.  By adhering to the following report recommendations, however, your risk of cancer can be cut in half.  For maximum health protection, adhering to all ten recommendations is important.  Finally, don’t let the simplicity of the guidelines cause you to underestimate their value – sometimes the simplest advice, is also the most powerful.

Here are the top 10 recommendations for cancer prevention: 

1. Be a healthy weight.

Excess weight is the cause of many types of cancer.  Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life.  Next to not smoking, this is the most important thing you can do to reduce cancer risk.

2.  Be physically active.

Walk more and sit less daily.  Physical activity helps reduce your risk of two of the most common cancers (colon and breast cancer) and helps you maintain a healthy weight.  The greater the amount of activity, the greater your protection against cancer.  Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (for example, 30 minutes of walking on at least 5 days of the week) or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly (for example, 20 minutes of running on at least 4 days of the week).  For optimal weight control, it’s often necessary to get at least 45 minutes to one hour of activity daily and to limit screen time.

3.  Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.

These foods should make up a major part of your usual daily diet, including a minimum of five servings of colourful, non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily.  Aim for at least 30 grams of fibre each day, primarily from unprocessed, plant foods.

4.  Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars.

Limiting fast foods (like burgers, fries, shakes, and soft drinks) and processed foods (like potato chips, cakes, cookies, pastries, candy, desserts, and products made with white flour) helps you control your calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.  Foods that cause significant increases in blood sugar levels and insulin after eating, also increase the risk of endometrial cancer.

5.  Limit consumption of red and processed meat.

Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb (no more than about 3 portions per week, about a deck-of-cards serving size).  Eat little, if any processed meat, including cold cuts, sausages, and bacon.  This recommendation is especially important for lowering your risk of colon cancer.

6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

There is strong evidence that sugary drinks promote weight gain, overweight, and obesity.  Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks, including tea or coffee without added sugar.  Limit fruit juice too.

7. Limit alcohol consumption.

There is strong evidence that alcohol is the cause of many cancers.  For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol.  If you do drink, women should limit their intake to one drink daily, and men to two drinks.

8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention.

There is strong evidence that high-dose beta-carotene supplements may increase lung cancer risk.  The evidence is not strong that dietary supplements, apart from calcium for colon cancer, reduce cancer risk.  Healthy food, not supplements, is your best cancer prevention tool.

9. For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can.

Breastfeeding is good for both mother (helps protect against breast cancer) and baby (promotes healthy growth and reduces the risk of overweight and obesity).  Ideally infants should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and up to 2 years or beyond alongside appropriate complementary foods.

10. After a cancer diagnosis (or recovery from the disease), follow these same recommendations, if you can.

To see the full report, go to




















Lessons Learned: 

Cancer is a leading cause of disease.  Reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and eating a diet rich in plant-based foods.  Limit your intake of fast food, processed foods, red meat, processed meats, alcohol, and sugary drinks.  Don’t rely on supplements for cancer prevention.



World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research

Diet, Nutrition and Cancer: a Global Perspective

Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018



I’m a registered dietitian with a passion for peanut butter sandwiches and an undying love for chocolate. I’ve been researching, writing, and speaking about eating for optimal health for over 25 years. I have two wonderful daughters, love hiking year-round, and playing hockey in the winter. Perhaps, most importantly, I never let a good dance song go to waste!

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