Nutrition Hotline Online

Questions and Answers

Take a look at this list of recent questions and their answers. You may find the information you're looking for. Or, submit your own questi ons by e-mail, or call the Hotline. The list of questions and answers will be updated on a regular basis, so make sure you check back soon.

Answers to the questions below are provided by a team of registered dietitians.

Cancer Prevention

Cancer Patients and Survivors

Weight Management


Cancer Prevention

Q: I have a family history of colon cancer. What lifestyle factors can lower my risk?

A: A: Family history does not necessarily mean that you, too, will get colon cancer. Research indicates that lifestyle is a more important factor and one that can reduce about one-half of all colorectal cancers in the United States every year. Physical activity can help decrease your risk of developing colon cancer, as can eating a mostly plant-based diet with plenty of fiber containing foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit. Limiting red meat and avoiding processed meats such as deli meats, bacon and sausage is important, as well. Being overweight or obese increases risk, as does regularly drinking alcohol. For more information, see Learn About Colorectal Cancer or check out AICR’s brochure Reducing Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer.

Q: What vitamins should I be taking to help prevent cancer?

A: There is no scientific evidence that vitamin supplements are cancer protective. It is clear that supplements cannot take the place of a mostly plant-based diet that contains a large variety of vegetables and fruits. The thousands of phytochemicals (protective plant substances) cannot be found in a simple pill and most people are able to get all the nutrients they need through a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans. Some research shows that high doses of some supplements could be harmful to your health. AICR cautions against using supplements to protect against cancer, but some people may derive other health benefits from supplement use. For more information, see Supplements and Cancer.

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Q: What does eating salt have to do with cancer?

A: Diets containing a large amount of salted fish (such as those in Asian countries) increase the risk of stomach cancer. Stomach cancer is more unusual in the U.S. It is recommended that we decrease our intake of processed foods, since they contain the greatest source of salt found in the American diet.

Q: Do you recommend becoming a vegetarian to decrease cancer risk or prevent a recurrence?

A: It is not necessary to become a strict vegetarian. However, eating a mostly plant-based diet is the most cancer protective strategy to help prevent cancer and/or a recurrence, based on the most recent science. To get started with a plant-based diet, try AICR’s New American Plate program, which recommends covering 2/3 or more of your plate with plant-based foods, and 1/3 or less with animal protein.

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Cancer Patients and Survivors

Q: Is it OK for a breast cancer survivor to eat soy products?

A: Yes. If you enjoy soy foods, it’s safe – and nutritious – to eat tofu, soy burgers, soy nuts, soy milk, soy flour and other soy-based foods in moderation. Human studies shows that eating up to three serving of soy foods a day does not increase risk of recurrence or death among breast cancer survivors. Supplements of soy protein or isoflavones are not adequately researched at this time and, therefore, not recommended. For more information on soy, see AICR's Foods That Fight Cancer™.

Q: I am receiving chemotherapy and am having problems eating. Any suggestions?

A: AICR’s CancerResource materials can help with the side effects of cancer therapies. This publication offers strategies for dealing with the challenges presented by cancer, including nutrition issues. The brochure Nutrition of the Cancer Patient also offers strategies.

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Weight Management

Q: I have been overweight for most of my life. Will losing weight at this point really make a difference in my disease risk?

A: Yes. With almost two thirds of Americans overweight or obese in the U.S., there is a lot of concern about the effect of excessive weight on disease risk. And the research clearly shows that obesity is not only a risk for diabetes and heart disease, but also for several types of cancers. Losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight can make a difference in your disease risk. That means if you weigh 180 pounds, just losing 18 pounds can offer significant benefits and health protection.

Q: There are so many new diets out there these days. Which do you recommend?

A: Actually, we do not recommend any specific “diet,” as this word implies short-term limitations on what you eat. The key to weight management is to make eating healthfully a part of your daily lifestyle, not just to restrict food intake for a couple of weeks. Check out AICR’s New American Plate program, which addresses proportion and portion size. It focuses on the transition to a plate filled with more plant-based foods and less animal protein, along with cutting down on portion sizes. There is no deprivation involved, no elimination of specific food groups or emphasis on any one food, as with many fad diets. And incorporating physical activity into your life is essential to a healthy lifestyle.

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Q: I have heard that vegetables can protect against cancer, but I don't like them. Can I just eat fruit instead?

A: Eating a wide variety of vegetables is one of the most effective cancer risk reduction strategies. Although fruits offer protection, vegetables tend to have a larger variety of protective phytochemicals. So continue to eat a variety of fruits, but try those veggies once again. Instead of preparing them the way you remember them, olive green and mushy, try them steamed lightly until crisp but tender and drizzled with an Asian sauce, stir fried in just a bit of olive oil and served over seasoned rice, or in soups, casseroles, and stews. Try a new vegetable each week, one that you have not tried in many years. For ideas on how to make your vegetables easy and tasty, take a look at AICR’s brochure The New American Plate: Veggies. Or, visit the Veggies section of the AICR Test Kitchen.

Q: Where can I get recipes to help me eat for lower cancer risk?

A: AICR’s Test Kitchen features a numberof easy, delicious recipes that are also good for you. And out in bookstores now is AICR’s The New American Plate Cookbook.

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Q: Can grilled foods really cause cancer?

A: Research studies done on animals show that exposing meats to direct flame, smoke and intense heat (like when you grill or broil) can cause the formation of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Cooking methods that involve less heat, such as microwaving, baking, steaming and poaching, do not promote the formation of these substances.

When you do grill, there are several strategies that can be used to cut down on carcinogen formation. Marinating can significantly protect animal proteins such as beef, chicken and fish from carcinogen formation. Flipping frequently, removing excess fat from meat before cooking, and decreasing exposure by microwaving for part of the cooking time also may be helpful. Most experts agree that plant-based foods do not form these undesirable substances. So for delicious and healthful options, try grilling vegetables, veggie burgers and fruit slices and cut down on meat, fish and poultry.

Q: Why does AICR recommend I eat whole grains? Aren’t grains fattening?

A: Whole grains are recommended over refined grains because they contain more dietary fiber and nutrients. They are also digested more slowly and will keep you satisfied longer than refined grains.

Grains themselves do not cause weight gain. Eating excessive amounts of just about any food will add up to more calories than is needed for the day, and you will gain weight. Whole grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, barley and bulgur, offer loads of nutrition and protective phytochemicals, and are also satisfying.

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Q: Is it necessary to buy organic fruits and vegetables?

A: Recent science indicates that the benefits of eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day far outweigh any risks associated with pesticide residues. That said, it is reasonable, if there is concern about these residues, to purchase organic produce now available in specialty stores and most supermarkets. Be aware, however, that they are more expensive than conventionally grown produce.

Q: Which vegetables are especially good to prevent cancer?

A: In general, a wide variety of vegetables and fruits offers a wide variety of phytochemicals. Each individual produce item offers its own profile of these protective substances, so include as many different ones as possible each day for a powerhouse of protection. For information on specific foods and the cancer protection they offer, check out Foods That Fight Cancer.

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The Nutrition Hotline is a free service provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). AICR does not provide medical advice. Answers provided through the Hotline are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Please contact your health care professionals for individualized, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.