The first time I glimpsed AICR’s progressive Cancer Prevention Recommendations at my first nutrition conference four decades ago, I was immediately impressed. As a newly graduated dietitian, nutrition at that time was more focused on treating diseases rather than preventing them. In those early days, healthy diets felt punishing and lifeless: low-fat, bland and colorless. AICR revolutionized the nutrition game with colorful handouts and proactive nutrition-based messages on the power to fight cancer with your plate. Since then, AICR has been my beacon of cancer-related information. For forty years, AICR has saved lives through evidence-based research on how a vibrant plate full of cancer-protective foods can reduce cancer risk.
So, it was a great honor when AICR asked me to collaborate with them by developing plant-based recipes, videos and blogs. As the Plant-Powered Dietitian, I had lived in a Blue Zone—the plant-based community of Loma Linda, California, with one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world—and had written several books and hundreds of articles on the health benefits of eating a more plant-forward diet. Indeed, the cancer-protective benefits of eating a more plant-based diet have been well documented, and it has been one of AICR’s key recommendations for years.
The food choices that help fight cancer are primarily plant-based foods—colorful vegetables, crunchy whole grains, naturally sweet fruits, earthy beans—filled with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. They are also sources of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. I’ve educated countless people on the beautiful AICR New American Plate, which highlights a diet packed with whole plant foods, with one-third (or less) of the plate dedicated to animal protein (which also can be swapped for plant proteins, such as lentils or tofu). I constantly refer to the landmark AICR Continuous Update Program, which gathers the latest science-based nutrition recommendations for cancer risk and survival.
Little did I know that my respect and relationship with AICR would deepen when I would mount my own fight against cancer this year. I’ve been living a cancer-protective life, filling my plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds; avoiding red and processed meat; exercising daily; and limiting sugary foods. And now that I faced cancer myself, I’ve returned to AICR’s cancer-fighting blueprint with renewed focus.
Research shows that the diet and lifestyle factors that help you reduce your risk of developing cancer are also good for helping you survive it. In addition to my longtime lifestyle practices, I’m now paying even more attention to exercise, weight, sugar intake and alcohol consumption. My day starts with a stress reduction activity, such as meditation, followed by a breakfast smoothie packed with leafy greens, berries and soymilk. Lunch is a simple plant-based meal, such as my AICR-featured Walnut Cauliflower Glow Bowl. I exercise daily, with small at-home workouts that include dumbbells for muscle strengthening, and a very long walk with my husband and two dogs. Dinner is my time to get creative and prepare a delicious, colorful plant-forward meal featuring local, seasonal ingredients like this Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables and Beans recipe. My nightly dessert is a serving of seasonal fruit, sometimes featuring apricots from my tree or berries from my local farmers market.
These lifestyle choices are not only healthful, but they are also immensely enjoyable! I’m very blessed in my personal cancer journey: my prognosis is good, and I am living a meaningful life. As so many of you have observed, the lifestyle choices we make every day are enormously important along our cancer journey.
For all of us mounting our personal fight against cancer, let’s stay strong together with the power of our daily choices.