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Updated cancer-prevention guidelines: exercise more and consume less meat, sugary beverages, processed foods and alcohol

The guidelines also state that the American Cancer Society does not recommend vitamin and mineral supplements — or any other kind of dietary supplements — for the prevention of cancer.

a variety of vegetables
A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables — dark green, red, and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and others.
Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

If you want to lower your risk of cancer, you may need to make changes to your exercise routine and dietary choices.

The American Cancer Society released on Tuesday its updated “Diet and Physical Activity Guideline” for cancer prevention. It raises the recommended amount of weekly physical activity from a minimum of 150 minutes a week to 150-300 minutes — with an emphasis on the upper number. It also now suggests that people reduce their consumption of certain foods: processed and red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods and alcohol.

Notably, the new guideline’s statement about alcohol consumption is firmer and more direct than in the past. “It is best not to drink alcohol,” it says.

Using the latest scientific evidence, the ACS has also updated its recommended strategies for how public, private and community organizations can reduce barriers to healthy eating and active living. As the new guideline points out, such barriers disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people of low socioeconomic status, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas.

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2020 recommendations

Here is the ACS’s summary of the recommendations for individuals (with abbreviations spelled out):

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.
  • Keep body weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life.
  1. Be physically active.
  • Adults should engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination; achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.
  • Children and adolescents should engage in at least 1 hour of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day.
  • Limit sedentary behavior, such as sitting, lying down, and watching television, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
  • A healthy eating pattern includes:

– Foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

– A variety of vegetables — dark green, red, and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and others.

– Fruits, especially whole fruits with a variety of colors; and

– Whole grains.

  • A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include:

– Red and processed meats;

– Sugar-sweetened beverages; or

– Highly processed foods and refined grain products.

  1. It is best not to drink alcohol.
  • People who do choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.

“The guideline continues to reflect the current science that dietary patterns, not specific foods, are important to reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health,” says Laura Makaroff, the ACS’ senior vice president for prevention and early detection, in a released statement. “There is no one food or even food group that is adequate to achieve a significant reduction in cancer risk.”

The guidelines also state that the ACS does not recommend vitamin and mineral supplements — or any other kind of dietary supplements — for the prevention of cancer. In fact, it points out that some high-dose supplements have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.

“Current and evolving scientific evidence supports a shift away from a nutrient-centric approach to a more holistic concept of dietary patterns,” says Makaroff. “People eat whole foods — not nutrients — and evidence continues to suggest that it is healthy dietary patterns that are associated with reduced risk for cancer, especially colorectal and breast cancer.”

Community action

The updated guideline makes this recommendation for community action:

Public, private, and community organizations should work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to develop, advocate for, and implement policy and environmental changes that increase access to affordable, nutritious foods; provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity; and limit access to alcoholic beverages for all.

Some of the strategies for community action outlined in the guideline include:

  • providing incentives to the food retail environment to place grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods,
  • developing shared-use arrangements with public and private entities to open up recreational facilities (gyms, tracks, playing fields) to the broader community,
  • transforming vacant lots into community gardens,
  • creating more “active” — and safe — transportation systems (pedestrian and bicycle routes) to encourage physical activity, and
  • regulating the density of alcohol retail outlets through licensing or zoning laws.

FMI:  The guideline was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, where it can be read in full. The journal is published by the ACS.