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(MCT)—The American Cancer Society calls itself “The official sponsor of birthdays.” I like that. It reminds me of the hope we have in beating this menacing disease.

What is cancer? It’s a term used for more than 100 different diseases with one thing in common — the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the body. Half of all men and one-third of women in the United States will develop cancer in their lifetimes, says the ACS.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that one of every three cases of cancer can be prevented. And some of the greatest weapons against the growth of cancer cells come from our food choices, according to a recent report from the World Cancer Research Fund. Here are some of their recommendations:

Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight. Extra weight — especially around the middle — is strongly linked to cancer … colon cancer in particular.

Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Exercise helps normalize hormone levels and strengthens our immune system — both important for cancer prevention.

Stay away from sugar-sweetened drinks and eat smaller amounts of “energy-dense” food. Sugar per se does not cause cancer, but the extra poundage caused by the extra calories in these foods can be a cancer risk, say experts. What’s an “energy-dense” food? One packed with calories when compared to other foods of the same weight. For example, a 3.5-ounce apple contains 52 calories of energy. A 3.5-ounce chocolate bar contains 520 calories. Gulp.

Fill up most of your plate with plant-based foods. Vegetables and fruit contain a host of substances that protect cells in the body from damage that can lead to cancer. Whole grains, beans, nuts and other plant foods also contain fiber that keeps food moving through the digestive system and reduces the risk of some types of cancer.

Eat smaller portions of beef, pork and lamb “red meats” and try to avoid processed meats as much as possible. “Studies show we can eat up to 18 ounces a week of red meat without raising cancer risk,” says the AICR. “Research on processed meat (meats preserved by smoking, curing, or salting) shows cancer risk starts to increase with any portion.”

Other recommendations: limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 a day for women. Go easy on salty foods. And don’t go nuts with high-dose dietary supplements. The best defense against cancer, say experts, is a balanced and varied diet.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

©2012 The Monterey County Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services