Expect Questions About Updated Dietary Guidelines

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The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans1 have generated comments and controversy, with some organizations expressing concern that the guidelines did not recommend limiting the consumption of red and processed meat. These organizations include the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). “AICR research has shown that red and processed meats are convincingly linked to colorectal cancer, and the World Health Organization has also recently established that link,” according to an AICR blog commenting on the guidelines.2

Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD, AICR Vice President for Research, told The ASCO Post that the AICR recommended limiting consumption of red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb) to no more than 18 ounces per week and avoiding processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausages, and bacon).

Commendable Recommendations

Dr. Higginbotham praised the recommendations to eat a healthy diet, which include plenty of plant food and a limit on added sugars to 10% or less of total calories. As noted on the AICR blog, “Foods with high amounts of added sugar contribute to obesity, a cause of 10 cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal, and kidney.”2

A matrix prepared by the AICR in partnership with its global affiliate, World Cancer Research Fund International, plots evidence linking diet and nutrition to increased or decreased risks of specific types of cancer.3 For instance, salty foods pose a probable increased risk for stomach cancer; aflatoxins, for liver cancer; and alcoholic drinks, for liver and breast cancers. Conversely, nonstarchy vegetables are associated with a probable decreased risk for cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and stomach.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans1 were developed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. “Intended for policymakers and health professionals, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines outlines how people can improve their overall eating patterns—the complete combination of foods and drinks in their diets.” The complete guidelines and key recommendations are available at

Three Steps to Cancer Prevention

“There has been a lot of talk now about the moonshot to cure cancer, and we very much support that effort,” Dr. Higginbotham said. “But we also think it is important to keep in mind that some cancer can be stopped before it starts, that some cancer is preventable. We can’t say in whom exactly. It’s not like we can point to a person and say, ‘Your cancer was caused because you are eating this way.’ But we know that in the population, that about a third of the most common types of cancer could be prevented if people would just stay lean, eat smart, and move more. And that’s not even talking about tobacco or other exposures that we know cause cancer.”

Dr. Higginbotham recommended three steps for cancer prevention: maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet, and be physically active.”

For Cancer Survivors, Too

“After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention,” the AICR advises. Dr. Higginbotham stressed that dietary recommendations do not apply to patients being actively treated for cancer. That’s because of the special needs these patient may have due to the effects of cancer and its treatment. “There is not enough research yet,” Dr. Higginbotham said, to be able to make diet and nutrition recommendations for patients with cancer still in treatment. “But a lot of people are working on them.” ■

Disclosure: Dr. Higginbotham reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, 8th ed. December 2015. Available at Accessed February 4, 2016.

2. American Institute for Cancer Research Blog: New dietary guidelines: Helping you with plant foods, added sugar; misses mark on meat. January 7, 2016. Available at Accessed February 4, 2016.

3. World Cancer Research Fund International: Continuous update project (CUP) matrix. Available at Accessed February 4, 2016.

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