If you do not use tobacco then the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer is eat well, maintain a healthy body weight, and get physical exercise. Unfortunately when surveyed less than 3% of the population eats a health promoting diet that meets the guidelines for cancer prevention and over 68% of the population is overweight or obese. Following the principles of calorie density will reduce a person’s lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer and also prevent against weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes.
The notion of calorie density, the amount of calories in a specific weight of food, may sound complicated. But it’s really a guideline that takes the worry out of watching your weight. Simply put: If you load up your plate with plant foods, which contain lots of water and fiber and not much fat, you’ll feel full on fewer calories. And that’s important because calorie-dense meals promote overweight and obesity, and excess body fat is a primary cause of many cancers.
A healthy diet is one that contains lots of fruits and vegetables. On top of being packed with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and powerful phytochemicals they are also very low in calorie density. When people select these low calorie foods people also get to eat all they want until they are comfortably full, they do not have to count calories and they will not gain weight. Processed foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fatty foods and free oils are very high in calorie density. Eating foods that are high in calories makes weight loss almost impossible. This is because people tend to eat the same amount of weight of food every day. Since calorie density is a constant if people select from low calorie foods BY WEIGHT then they will take in less calories.
What researchers have found is if the calorie density of the food is below 400 calories per pound, no matter how much they ate, they all lost weight. Between 600-800 calories per pound, with some moderate exercise, they all lost weight. Between 800-1200 calories per pound, people gained weight, except for those with very high activity levels. Over 1200 calories per pound, everyone gained weight. For weight loss and cancer prevention selecting the right foods is KEY.
The recent American Institute for Cancer Research and The American Cancer Society reports on cancer recommend that the average calorie density of the diet to avoid obesity and weight problems to be 550-600 calories per pound.
Foods that are low in calorie density are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fresh vegetables average around 100 calories/pound, fresh fruits average around 250-300 calories/pound, starchy vegetables/intact whole grains average around 450-500calories/pound, and beans/legumes average around 550-600 calories/pound.
I do not think anyone needs to know any of these numbers in order to eat healthy and live a long and healthy life. It however is a much simpler approach than counting calories as it uses general guidelines and principles to help make healthier choices. If you want to lose weight simply shift towards foods that are lower in calorie density such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes and reduce the amount of oil, sugar, and refined carbohydrates in your diet.
Focus the majority of your diet on the foods that are low in calorie density plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole unprocessed grains) and you will be practicing the secret to long term successful weight loss and cancer prevention. Aim for nine servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetable and 2-3 servings of whole grains and legumes for a healthy cancer preventing diet! Eat more, weight less, and live longer!