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Scientists and the news media make quite a pair when it comes to confusing people about healthy eating. Every month – and sometimes every week – there seems to be a new headline saying some study has now found that a bad-for-you food is now good for you or that a good-for-you food is now bad.

So it’s understandable that people throw their hands up in frustration. But the reality is that when you look at all the evidence together, it’s pretty clear that a small number of simple changes to what we eat can go a long way toward preventing cancer and other serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Try these steps:

Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and keep red meat to a minimum.

Eating a diet filled with plant-based foods has long been shown to lower the risk of cancer. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and are generally low in saturated fat and calories – all of which may help lower the risk of certain cancers. And even though recent studies show that fruits and vegetables as a whole may not lower cancer risk as much as once thought, certain fruits and vegetables still likely offer some protection. Also important is cutting back on red meat, which has been linked to both colon and prostate cancer.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

While most of us know that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can benefit the heart, it tends to be less well-known that alcohol can also increase the risk of many cancers. Because of this and other potential downsides, people who don’t drink shouldn’t feel the need to start. However, those who already drink a moderate amount (less than one drink a day for women and less than two for men) probably don’t need to stop.

Take a daily multivitamin.

A daily multivitamin is a cheap and potentially powerful insurance policy for your diet. When added on top of a healthy diet, a daily multivitamin can provide added protection against a number of chronic diseases, including cancer. Studies have found a strong link between folate and a lower risk of colon cancer as well as a lower risk of breast cancer in women who regularly drink alcohol. And the calcium and vitamin D in most multivitamins provide added protection against colon cancer.

Don’t worry about total fat intake.

It may come as a surprise to many, but there’s very little evidence that eating a lot fat actually increases the risk of cancer. Of course this doesn’t mean it’s OK to eat bacon cheeseburgers and French fries every night. When it comes to fat, it’s always best to choose healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) over unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats). It’s better for the heart and may actually lower the risk of some cancers.

Mind the calories and be more active.

Keeping weight in check by getting regular exercise and watching how much we eat can have a huge impact on cancer risk. Weight gain and obesity have been linked to an increased risk of as many as ten different cancers. Try fitting some amount of physical activity into each day. More is always better, but any amount is better than none. And try to become a more mindful eater. Simply choosing smaller portions and eating more slowly can help us keep from going overboard at mealtimes.

Click on the links below for more information about diet and cancer:

Healthy Eating: Balance and Moderation
American Cancer Society Guidelines
Additional Resources