February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends not one, but three ounces of cancer prevention! Each ‘ounce’ is something you can do that is preventive:
- eat a healthy diet
- get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day
- achieve and maintain a healthy weight
Their recommendations for a healthy diet are simple: choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat. But achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be more challenging.
What is a healthy weight for me and why is it important?
A healthy weight is one in which your height is in proportion to your weight – this proportion is known as the Body Mass Index (BMI). Calculating your BMI will let you know if your weight is a healthy one by using the following equation:
BMI = Weight (kg)
The goal for BMI is between 18.5 and 25 kg/m2.
Achieving a healthy weight not only protects you from six different types of cancers but it protects you from other chronic diseases.
What if my BMI is greater than 25?
If your BMI is greater than 25, losing weight may be recommended. Losing weight involves eating a healthy diet and regular physical activity, both of which you already know will help prevent cancer.
The key to a healthy diet is not to “diet” but to make healthy changes that you can stick with for a lifetime. Instead of restricting your diet, think about adding more healthy foods and don’t skip meals. Strive for at least five fruits and vegetables each day, one or two servings with each meal or snack. Be sure to limit any high calorie additions to your fruits and vegetables, such as sauces, dips, butter or sugar. Instead of white bread, pasta or processed crackers, choose whole grain versions.
Pay attention to the recommended portion size on each nutrition label and try to stick to no more than one or two servings at a time, filling up on fruits and/or vegetables if you are still hungry. If you eat sweets regularly, limit them to once a day and reduce your typical portion size. Lastly, avoid eating while watching TV, working or driving. Just focusing your full attention on each meal can help with feeling full or satisfied.
What if my BMI is less than 18.5?
Being too thin can also be harmful to your health. Make sure you are eating at least three regular meals a day; if you are, then add healthy snacks daily. Start adding healthy fats such as cooking with olive or canola oil and adding nuts, seeds or avocado to salads or entrees. Pump up the calories and protein in fruits and vegetables: you can top vegetables with cheese or olive oil and pinenuts or dip fruit in your favorite flavored Greek yogurt mixed with some whipped cream. If these changes are not enough to promote weight gain, consider drinking 100% juice instead of water.
How can I maintain a healthy weight?
Once you have achieved your healthy weight, maintaining it is even more important. Continue to practice the healthy lifestyle changes you made to lose the weight, including regular physical activity and a healthy diet. Eat a wide variety of foods focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins but start to add in some of the foods you had limited while trying to lose weight. Monitor your weight weekly to prevent weight gain through awareness.
Following these guidelines will give you more than an ounce of “cancer prevention!”
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: Recipes
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: Cancer Nutrition Services