Avoiding Cancer: Your Nine-Point Action Plan

According to a new study, these steps offer considerable protection—though they're not easy to take

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The gist of a long-awaited analysis of cancer-prevention studies out this week: Be slim, very slim. The report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research states in no uncertain terms that the more pounds you're packing, the greater your risk of developing a number of cancers, everywhere from the colon and the breast to the kidney and the pancreas. And it gave detailed advice on avoidance. Here's what you can do:

1. Be as lean as possible. Normal is OK, but you actually want to be on the lower end of the normal range of the body mass index, a number that relates your weight to your height. Aim for a BMI of 21 to 23—for a man 6-feet tall, that's about 162 pounds.

2. Be active. There's no getting around it. You need 60 minutes or more of moderate exercise, or 30 minutes of vigorous physical exercise, every day.

3. Avoid "energy-dense foods" and sugary drinks. That means cut way, way back on high-calorie fast food and soda.

4. Eat mostly plants. Shoot for five portions of nonstarchy fruits and vegetables each day. And french fries don't count. The starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams probably don't offer the same benefits as others such as greens, broccoli, okra, eggplants, and bok choy.

5. Back off on the red meat. Eat less than 500 grams (18 ounces) a week, and banish processed meats from your diet altogether.

6. Limit alcohol. It's two drinks a day tops for men and one for women.

7. Avoid salty foods. Salts can cause stomach cancer, so be wary of highly processed salt-infused foods. Some processed foods that don't seem very salty—such as bread or cereal—can actually be loaded.

8. Don't pin your hopes on dietary supplements. High doses of nutrients can both protect against and promote cancer. But unless scientists can do a better job of sorting out which do which, your best bet will be to get the nutrients you need from foods.

9. Breast-feed your baby. Doing this for at least the first six months will help protect both the mother from breast cancer and the infant from obesity and other problems.

The panel made a 10th recommendation that probably goes without saying: Cancer survivors should maintain this lifestyle, too. The full report is available at dietandcancerreport.org.