Cancer Nutrition Consortium

New Year’s Resolutions for Cancer Prevention and Survivorship

January 4, 2020

Lindsay Margolis, MS, RD, LDN | Senior Clinical Dietitian

At the start of a new year, many of us make resolutions to be healthier. Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions, like maintaining a healthy weight, eating fewer processed foods, and exercising more, can also help decrease cancer risk.


Overweight and obesity, a poor diet, and physical inactivity have been linked to increased risk for several cancers, including colorectal, post-menopausal breast, ovarian, endometrial, kidney, pancreatic, esophageal and stomach cancer, among others. This year make a resolution to improve the quality of your diet and get active. But forget the crash diet of years past. You don’t need to cut out entire food groups or spend hours at the gym to makes changes that reduce your cancer risk. Shifting to a plant- forward diet and including regular exercise are beneficial for cancer prevention and survivorship.


Aim for a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain important phytonutrients, which are natural chemicals with cancer- fighting properties. Phytonutrients give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Aim for at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors every day.


Move toward a plant-based diet

Research shows that a plant-based diet is beneficial for both cancer prevention and survivorship. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a plant-based diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and some animal products. Aim to fill 2/3 of your plate with plant foods and 1/3 (or less) with fish, poultry, meat or dairy.


Cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to excess calorie intake without adding much nutrient value to your diet. Stick to unsweetened beverages instead, such as water or unsweetened tea. Try infusing water with fruit or herbs to add flavor.


Choose fewer ultra-processed foods

Fast foods and highly processed foods high in fat and sugar, like chips and candy, can contribute to weight gain. Save these foods for special occasions and be mindful of portion sizes.


Be physically active

Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce risk of certain cancers. Exercise also helps with maintaining a healthy weight. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.


Set SMART Goals

Even with the best intentions, New Year’s resolutions are often short-lived. How can you stay accountable this year? A goal-setting strategy called SMART goals can help. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. As you start to identify your resolution, ask yourself these questions:

Is your goal specific? Instead of committing to eat more fruits and vegetables, your goal might be to have one ½ cup serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal and snack.

Is your goal measurable? Keeping track of food intake and physical activity has been shown to be effective for weight management. You can track using an app, a wearable device, or pen and paper.

Is your goal attainable? Make a plan that will allow you to succeed. If you know you won’t have time to cook healthy meals every day, consider doing all your meal prep over the weekend or having a healthy meal kit delivered (if it’s in your budget).

Is your goal realistic? If you regularly drink multiple sodas in a day, it might not be realistic to stop cold-turkey. Start with small, realistic changes and build on them over time.

Is your goal time-bound? Commit to a starting point and specify when and how often you’ll do this new behavior or activity. For example, you might commit to going for a 30-minute jog on three days each week starting this Monday.
It takes realistic, consistent changes to make resolutions stick. Start small and commit to building on your resolutions to be healthier throughout the year.