Plant-Based Diet for Cancer Prevention and Cancer Patients

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Plant-Based Diet for Cancer Prevention, Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors: What does it mean and why is it important?

Following a plant-based diet has numerous health benefits for any individual, including decreasing the risk of many chronic diseases and promoting overall health. It makes sense, that The American Institute for Cancer Research has consistently recommended a plant-based diet for cancer prevention. However, a common misconception is that in order to achieve a plant based diet you have to become vegetarian or vegan. This is not the case. In order to be considered plant based, the diet should contain 1/3 or less animal-based protein and 2/3 or more colorful plant foods from fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and seeds. (Reference #1)  Incorporating more plant-based foods into the diet does not have to be overwhelming. This article will describe some easy and nutritious ways to achieve a more plant-based lifestyle

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet simply means the majority of your food intake comes from plants instead of animals. Fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and soy are the mainstays in a typical plant-based diet. Animal-based foods, including fish, meat, dairy and eggs, can be included in a plant-based diet, but on a lesser scale than the typical American diet. As mentioned above, the 2/3:1/3 approach is a good rule to follow. You can base that on meals: 2 meals of your day are completely plant based while 1 meal includes an animal product or two. Or you could choose to base it on your plate: 2/3 of your plate at each meal comes from plants and 1/3 is from animals. Whatever the method, always remember to choose healthier, lean animal products, such as lean poultry, fish, and low-fat yogurt and cheeses, instead of higher fat red meat or whole milk dairy products.

Why is following a plant-based diet important?

Here are a few reasons why adding more plants to your diet can boost your nutritional health:

Cancer prevention. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and soy have all been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. For example, beans, whole grains and nuts all have a high amount of fiber, which can reduce the risk of colon cancer, while whole soy products, like tofu or edamame, have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer for some individuals. (Reference# 2-3)  In addition, colorful fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, that can decrease cancer-causing free radicals in your body (Reference #4) Research has shown that red meat and processed meats can in fact increase your risk of certain types of cancer, including colon and rectal cancers. (Reference #5)  Increasing the amount of healthy plant-based foods in the diet, while reducing your red meat intake, can make a significant impact on your cancer risk.

Heart health. Animal products are the main food culprit leading to heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Saturated fat and cholesterol, found in nearly all animal products, can damage your heart organ and clog your arteries, making it harder for your heart to function. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, however, are the exception. They provide your body with omega 3-fatty acids, which research has shown can reduce the damaging effects of arterial inflammation. (Reference #6)  Plant based foods, including avocados, nuts, beans, and soy, contain fiber and “good” heart healthy fats, which can reduce high cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and promote heart health.

Boost your immune system and gut health. Research has shown that at least 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract, therefore a strong gut is crucial to keeping sickness at bay.(Reference #7)  Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which is an essential part of gut health. Whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables provide your body with adequate fiber, promote bowel regularity and strengthen your immune system by nourishing healthful gut bacteria. It is critical for a cancer patients’ immune system to be in prime shape during treatment to prevent infection and hospitalization. (Reference #8)

Maintain a healthy weight. Plant-based foods are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, and for the most part, short on calories. Filling the majority of your diet with fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts can facilitate weight loss or promote weight maintenance. Animal products, such as red meat or dark meat poultry, full fat dairy products and cheese are packed with calories and saturated fats, leading to an increase in calorie consumption and unwanted weight gain. Choosing wholesome, natural plant foods instead of processed plant foods will also help keep the calories under control. Choose raw nuts, fresh fruits and whole grains over added-sugars and sweets and processed canned fruits, cereals or granola bars. Not only is weight control good for your heart, making small changes to maintain a healthy weight can also reduce the risk of as many as eleven different types of cancer. (Reference #9)

Where do you begin?

Totally overhauling your existing diet is not necessary to follow a plant-based diet. Here’s an example of a simple way to change a typical meat filled chili meal into a hearty plant-based recipe:

Quinoa Two Bean Chili

Now that it is officially fall, a warm, cozy bowl of chili is the perfect place to start. Traditionally made with ground beef or pork as the base and topped with cheese and sour cream, the standard chili recipe can be full of saturated fat and calories and limited in dietary fiber.

Having friends over for the football game this weekend? Make a big batch of this vegetarian chili instead. Beans, whole grains and vegetables provide the perfect combination for a hearty chili, not to mention the added health benefits of fiber, protein and antioxidants.

Give it a try!

1. Sauté onions and peppers to start.

2. Add your fire-roasted tomatoes and spices like chili powder, cumin and garlic powder.

3. Incorporate two different types of beans, such as black beans and kidney beans.

4. Add cooked quinoa (or barley, lentils, etc.) to the mixture for some added protein and fiber.

5. Simmer for as little or long as you like (longer for more flavor!)
6. Top with avocado and pumpkin seeds

7. Serve with multi-grain crackers and raw vegetables as a side.

In Conclusion

Following a plant-based diet may seem overwhelming, but in reality it just takes a few minor changes every day to make an impact on your overall health and nutrition. Simple adjustments to your daily diet, like the chili recipe above, go a long way and usually are easier (and tastier) than you think!




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  1. Get the Facts on Fiber. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed September 26, 2017.


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  1. Phytochemicals: the Cancer Fighters in your Foods. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed September 26, 2017.


  1. Red and Processed meats. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed September 26, 2017.


  1. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. American Heart Association. Accessed September 26, 2017.


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  1. Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 16, 2017.


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If you enjoyed this recipe there are plenty more in our Meals to Heal Cookbook–written to meet the unique needs of cancer patients and caregivers and offering 150 recipes to make eating less stressful, more convenient, and simply more enjoyable. Created by oncology-credentialed registered dietitians, these delicious, nourishing, easy-to-prepare dishes are full of the nutrients you need to maintain strength during treatment. Loaded with essential nutrition info and recipes coded by common symptoms and side effects (including fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, mouth sores, taste and smell aversion, and others).



Photo by Peter Hurley


Susan Bratton Founder and Chief Executive Officer Susan founded Savor Health in 2011 after a career on Wall Street where she represented and focused exclusively on early and growth stage healthcare services and insurance companies. During her tenure on Wall Street, Susan was a member of the healthcare groups at firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Robertson Stephens and Wasserstein, Perella & Co.

Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management. She is actively involved in a number of industry associations including Women Business Leaders in Healthcare. She also serves on the Advisory Board of HCap, the national leading venue for healthcare providers and capital to meet, and is the Secretary for Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally on the role of proper nutrition in the cancer patient at industry association meetings as well as advocacy group summits and other oncology meetings.

Her work in oncology extends beyond Savor Health and speaking on the role of nutrition to her volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.


Jessica A. lannotta

MS, RD, CSO, CDN, Chief Operating Officer

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master’s degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations, including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

Savor Health is a trusted cancer nutrition expert that patients, caregivers and healthcare enterprises rely on for safe, effective and evidence-based nutrition information and programs. Savor Health is working to put an end to the one third of cancer deaths due to severe malnutrition by providing cancer patients and survivors with individualized disease-specific nutrition solutions through nutritional counseling, menu planning, customized recipes and a 150 recipe cookbook – Meals to Heal.

To learn more about Savor Health please visit

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