In an article published online on the Cleveland Clinic website, Ohio-based cancer dietician Joseph Dowdell has explained what is currently known about the importance of diet in preventing the risk of cancer.

He says, “The first things that tend to pop up are lists of foods you should eliminate because they cause cancer to grow. But we shouldn’t be fearful of food. Instead, take a step back and look at the big picture. That will allow you to focus on the diet changes that will have the most impact.”

In general, food has not been shown to prevent cancer but diet does play a key role in the prevention of certain cancers.

The American Cancer Society says obesity is one of the risk factors for many cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal cancer, kidney, liver, ovarian cancer, pancreatic, stomach, and thyroid cancers.

It has been found that at least 18% of all cancers and 16% of cancer deaths are due to obesity, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol consumption.

Dowdell says, “Food can help prevent many of the chronic conditions that increase your risk of cancer. Genetics and other health conditions can impact cancer prevalence as well, but those are usually out of our control. Obesity is something we can control through food and exercise.”

So, to reduce the risk of cancer, Dowdell says it is important to maintain a healthy weight.

He recommends going Mediterranean, eating at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, limiting added sugars, cutting down on alcohol, reducing salt intake, and taking vitamin D supplements.

Dowdell also suggests starting small if your diet is currently more fast-food fodder than plant-based paradigm. He adds, “Making any change is difficult. But setting small, achievable goals makes big goals much easier to accomplish.”

The cancer dietician advises reducing unhealthy food incrementally. He says, “If you’re used to drinking four sodas a day, shoot for one a day for the next week, and then the following week, shoot for one every other day and see how that goes. Slowly cut down even more. You can make drastic health impacts without feeling deprived.”

However, Dowdell says it is important to know that “everyone’s body reacts to food differently.” “While all of these are healthy guidelines, nutrition should be individualized. If you have digestive issues, for example, you should seek medical help,” he adds. “And always use reliable sources of information like the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.”