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Understanding How Your Daily Diet Can Impact Your Risk of Cancer

    • May 23, 2024
    • Eat Well
    • 5 minute read
  • Theresa Coleman RD, LD

Did you know that 30-50% of cancers are preventable with a healthy diet and lifestyle1?  The term "Western Diet" refers to the diet pattern of many Americans. This "diet" is high in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar. It is also low in fiber and whole fruits and vegetables. This way of eating has been linked to multiple diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancers.  But no need to worry; there are changes that you can make to decrease the risks of developing these diseases or keep them from progressing.

Remember, there is more to developing these diseases than your diet, like your family history or environment.

Let's review some ways to improve our nutrition with minor changes.

Choosing Healthy Proteins

Protein is an essential nutrient that our bodies require for growth, strength, preventing sicknesses, and many other daily tasks. High-quality protein comes from animal products like chicken, beef, eggs, and milk, as well as plant-based products like tofu, beans, lentils, and quinoa. But meats that are highly processed, such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats, can be higher in additives like nitrites and nitrates, which have been associated with certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancer2.

The best protein choices are skinless poultry (chicken and turkey), lean cuts of beef or pork, eggs in moderation, and low-fat dairy. Plant-based proteins like beans are also great options to add to your diet, as they are generally high in fiber.

Using Carbs to Combat Cancer

Carbohydrates are our bodies' preferred source of fuel. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex. Simple carbs are foods like cookies, sodas, white bread, and sugary cereals, such as Frosted Flakes, that lack fiber. They are digested quickly and give us energy, but they do not help us stay energized for a long time.

Complex carbs contain fiber. Examples of complex carbs are starchy vegetables, brown rice, and whole grains, including popcorn! Fiber has been shown to decrease the risks of developing heart disease, diabetes and even some types of cancer such as colon cancer3.

The Health Risks of Saturated Fats

Fats help protect our organs and help keep us full. They are essential to help our bodies get important nutrients like vitamins A, E, D and K. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are found in animal products like beef, pork, the skin on poultry, tropical oils like palm or coconut, and high fat dairy. These fats have been linked to heart disease and inflammation, which could increase your risk of developing cancer4,5 .

Unsaturated fats are found in avocados, liquid oils like vegetables or canola, nuts and seeds and have been shown to be beneficial to our health.

We can reduce our risk of cancer by choosing less processed foods and eating more whole foods with fiber. Whole foods are free from additives and hold as much of their nutritional value as possible. Great examples of this are fresh or frozen produce over canned produce. Processed foods, saturated fats, and added sugars all increase inflammation, which may increase the risk of cancer. Plant-based foods, lean cuts of meat, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide our bodies with the essential nutrients we need while supporting our immune system and overall health.

And in speaking of cancer, early detection will always offer the best possible outcomes. Do not put off your screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies. Colonoscopies are vital for early detection of colon cancer, but you may also be eligible for other tests for colon cancer screening. Reach out to your ArchWell Health Center for more information or assistance in scheduling your cancer screenings.


  1. Nüssler V, München Tumorzentrum, Kerschbaum E. (2019, July 23). Cancer Prevention with Nutrition and Lifestyle. " 
  1. Clemente-Suárez" VJ, Beltrán-Velasco AI, Redondo-Flórez L, Martín-Rodríguez A, Tornero-Aguilera JF. Global Impacts of Western Diet and Its Effects on Metabolism and Health: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2023 Jun 14;15(12):2749. doi: 10.3390/nu15122749. PMID: 37375654; PMCID: PMC10302286.
  1. Hellicar, L. (2023, June 23). Fiber and colorectal cancer: Lower risk and prevention. https://www.medicalnewstoday.c...;
  1. (2022, July 31). Diet High in Saturated Fat Linked to Higher Risk of HER2-Negative, Hormone-Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer.;
  1. Kim, J., Je, Y., & Giovannucci, E. (2021). Association between dietary fat intake and mortality from all-causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Clinical Nutrition, 40(3), 1060–1070.;

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About the Author

Theresa Coleman RD, LD, Nutrition Education Program Manager

Theresa Coleman is a St. Louis native and registered dietitian of 17 years. Prior to joining ArchWell Health she spent her career assisting with nutrition in nursing homes. Theresa says loves ArchWell Heath because she, “can make a great impact on lifestyle changes to promote healthy aging. In her free time she enjoys traveling and hiking her with family and dog.

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