Two for One: Heart Healthy Foods that Reduce Cancer Risk

By: Colleen Doyle, ACS Director, Nutrition and Physical Activity


Good news: Many foods not only are low in calories, they pack an extra wallop because of their ability to fight disease, including a variety of cancers. Not only that, a lot of these things can also be part of a healthy diet that can also reduce your risk of developing a variety of types of cancer. A two-for-one! Now who wouldn’t love that?


Beans and apples


You’ve probably heard that we should eat more fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber, which helps reduce serum cholesterol levels and is therefore good for your heart; and insoluble fiber, which helps keep a healthy GI tract, which is good for your colon! Oats, beans and apples – along with other fruits, vegetables – are great sources of primarily soluble fiber, but contain insoluble fiber, as well. Shoot for 25-30 grams of fiber each day.


Bananas, berries and broccoli


Eating more fruits and vegetables is important for reducing heart disease risk. Low in calories and bursting with nutrients, fruits and vegetables can help reduce high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease) and also may help with weight control – an important way to reduce your risk of both heart disease and cancer. Shoot for at least 2.5 cups of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. Sprinkle berries on your cereal, add lettuce and tomato to your sandwich or start your dinner with a salad topped with red peppers and carrots.


Brown rice, whole wheat pasta and….popcorn


Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and yes, even popcorn, are whole grains – foods that are packed with fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure. This same fiber and other nutrients may also help reduce the risk of colon cancer, and eating whole grains is a key component of the ACS recommendation to eat a mostly plant-based diet. Shoot for at least half your grain sources during the day to be whole grain – kick off the day with a 100% bran cereal, snack on some popcorn (skip the butter!), wrap your fish taco at dinner in a corn tortilla.


Salmon, tuna and mackerel


These fish contain omega 3 fatty acids – a type of fat that may help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and also blood pressure. (Other sources include walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil). The American Heart Association recommends that we eat fish – particularly these types – at least two times per week.


While it doesn’t appear that eating fish high in omega-3’s impact cancer risk, serving fish in place of red meat like beef, pork or lamb is a healthy swap, as red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. So why not swap out a filet mignon with a filet of salmon sometime this week?


Colleen Doyle, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and director of the nutrition and physical activity program with the American Cancer Society. Her research stresses the importance of diet and exercise in managing and preventing chronic diseases. As co-author of the Great American Eat Right Cookbook, Doyle helps you create a culinary menu that’s both nutritious and delicious.