Even long before dietitians’ knew what the Food Guide Pyramid was, great philosophers knew the meaning of good health and disease prevention. Eating healthy foods has a direct impact on our lives by increasing longevity and quality of life.
March is National Nutrition Month as well as Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Did you know that diet plays a role in preventing colorectal cancer? A diet high in fiber – such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables – while low in processed foods and red meat can help reduce your risk of colon cancer. An increase in physical activity, limiting alcohol, and getting the recommended levels of calcium are also beneficial tools to prevent colorectal cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines released in 2006, individuals can make a difference in their cancer prevention. Here are a few of the suggestions:
- Maintain a healthy weight throughout life. Try to balance caloric intake with physical activity by avoiding large amounts of weight-gain throughout life. Try achieving a healthy weight if you are currently overweight or obese.
- Adopt a physically active lifestyle. Adults should engage in moderate activity for 30 minutes or more on five or more days of the week. Children and adolescents should engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least five days per week.
- Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources. Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day. Choose whole grains as opposed to processed (refined) grains while cutting back on processed meats and red meats.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption by drinking no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
So how do I do it?
The old saying “calories in equals calories out,” is truly the basis for maintaining your weight. To get closer to your ideal body weight, you need to either reduce the amount of food consumed and/or increase your physical activity level. Try cutting back on simple sugars, saturated fats and trans fats, and alcohol, all of which can provide a lot of calories but few or no essential nutrients (For example: fried food, cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, and soft drinks).
Another way to cut back on calories consumed is to limit portion size. Try using a smaller plate, eating more frequently, and doubling up on fruits and vegetables, which contain lots of phytochemicals – cancer-fighting agents – and are low in calories.
Some examples of portion size include:
1 medium apple, banana, orange
½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
¾ cup of 100% fruit juice
1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables
½ cup of other cooked or raw vegetables, chopped
¾ cup of 100% vegetable juice
1 slice of bread
1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
Beans and nuts
½ cup of cooked dry beans
2 tablespoons of peanut butter
1/3 cup nuts
Dairy foods and eggs
1 cup of milk or yogurt
1½ ounces of natural cheese
2 ounces of processed cheese
2-3 ounces of cooked, lean meat, poultry, or fish
Physical activity can come in many ways from your usual day-to-day activities, which are typically of low intensity and short duration. Moderate activities are those that require effort equal to a brisk walk. Vigorous activities generally engage large muscle groups and cause the heart rate to increase, with a change in breathing depth and frequency, and sweating.
Some quick tips on how to increase your activity level:
- If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
- Exercise at lunch with your co-workers, family, or friends.
- Walk to visit co-workers instead of sending an email.
- Go dancing with your spouse or friends.
- Plan active vacations rather than only driving trips.
- Wear a pedometer every day and increase your daily steps.
- Join a sports team.
- Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
- Plan your exercise routine to gradually increase the days per week and minutes per session.
- Spend time playing with your kids.
- Healthy eating and exercise can help prevent cancer as well as other diseases and, most importantly, improve your sense of well being and your energy level, and improve your quality of life.
By celebrating National Nutrition Month, we are reminded to eat well to be well.
– by Alicia Michaux, M.S., R.D.
The Complete Guide-Nutrition and Physical Activity, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, September/October, 2006.
Alicia Michaux, M.S., R.D., is an out-patient registered dietitian specializing in oncology at the Cooper Cancer Institute.