There’s no getting around it—cancer is a fear-inducing word. Some people approach it with the mindset of “it won’t happen to me,” but unfortunately this thought process does nothing to prevent cancer.

Fortunately, there are diet and lifestyle guidelines that are scientifically proven to help reduce your risk. Below, Vanessa Vargas, RD SMGOR Registered Dietitian, explains some simple steps that can help you lead a longer and healthier life.

Approach Your Diet as a Lifestyle

“We shouldn’t go on temporary or fad diets,” says Vanessa. “For example, eliminating all carbohydrates helps you lose weight quickly, but it’s unsustainable.” In truth, we need complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread because our body runs on glucose. The key is avoiding simple processed carbohydrates, such as white bread, chips, crackers, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Vanessa recommends the Mediterranean diet as an easy (and delicious) way to maintain a healthy lifestyle:

  • Focus on eating a plant-based diet with daily consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, and avocado).
  • On a weekly basis, eat fish (which Vanessa says is “a very important source of Omega-3 fatty acids), lean poultry, beans, and eggs.
  • Enjoy dairy in moderation.
  • Limit your intake of red meat and processed meats.
  • Minimize concentrated sweets and junk food.

Exercise Regularly

“Overnutrition, or overconsumption of nutrients and food, is one of the problems that we see very frequently leading to obesity,” notes Vanessa. While many people know that obesity leads to health problems such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, some don’t realize it also increases the risk for such things as colorectal cancer.

“You need to moderate your intake and opt for more whole foods which keep you fuller and less likely to overconsume which is easy to do when consuming processed carbohydrates,” Vanessa says. “If your average intake is higher than your expenditure, then you are at increased risk of weight gain.”

  • Try to exercise 150 minutes per week, which, as Vanessa points out, comes out to only 30 minutes per day for five days a week.
  • Find a cardio activity you like, whether it be running, biking, or even simply going for a brisk walk. In fact, Vanessa says, “Walking is one of the best things you can do because it engages all the muscle groups.”
  • Incorporate weight training. This can be lifting weights or doing pull-ups, but there are other options as well. “You don’t need to be a bodybuilder,” Vanessa says. “A workout such as Pilates uses your body weight and objects such as resistance bands to build muscle.”

Avoid Tobacco and Alcohol

Avoiding all forms of tobacco will help reduce your cancer risk. If you do currently smoke, vape, or chew tobacco, there are various options available to quit:

  • Over-the-counter nicotine therapies, such as gum, patches, and lozenges
  • Prescription medications that curb cravings
  • Alternative therapies that you can discuss with your doctor

While most tobacco users know they are putting themselves at risk, Vanessa says he is also concerned about people’s consumption of alcohol. “Many people don’t realize that alcohol adds a lot of unnecessary calories and often sugar (from mixers) into the diet. For example, a glass of wine or a pint of craft beer has almost as many calories as a donut. And when consumed in excess, alcohol is actually a toxin to many of your organs,” she notes. “People come home from work and have two or three alcoholic beverages and don’t realize it’s bad for them. Like anything else, moderation is key.”