American Cancer Society Updates Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity

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The American Cancer Society has updated its guideline on diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. Staying at a healthy weight, staying active throughout life, following a healthy eating pattern, and avoiding or limiting alcohol may greatly reduce a person's lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer. At least 18% of all cancer cases in the United States are related to a combination of these factors; these lifestyle habits are the most important behaviors other than abstaining from smoking that people can control and change to help lower their cancer risk.

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The updated guideline reflects the latest evidence published since the last update in 2012. It was published by Rock et al in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Key Recommendations

Changes to the guideline include recommendations for getting more physical activity, eating less (or no) processed and red meat, and avoiding alcohol or drinking less. Directions include:

  • Stay at a healthy body weight throughout life.
  • Adults should get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or a combination. Getting 300 minutes—or even more—per week will confer the most health benefits.
  • Children and teens should get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day.
  • Spend less time sitting or lying down.
  • Eat a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits, and plenty of whole grains and brown rice.
  • Avoid or limit eating red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb, and processed meats such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, and hot dogs.
  • Avoid or limit sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol; if alcohol is consumed, women should have no more than one drink per day and men should have no more than two (a drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits).

According to Laura Makaroff, DO, American Cancer Society Senior Vice President, Prevention and Early Detection, the guideline is based on current science that shows that how you eat—rather than specific foods or nutrients—is important in reducing the risk of cancer and boosting overall health.

“There is no one food or even food group that is adequate to achieve a significant reduction in cancer risk,” said Dr. Makaroff. People should eat whole foods, not individual nutrients, she said, because evidence continues to suggest that healthy dietary patterns are associated with reduced risk for cancer—especially colorectal and breast cancers.


The updated guideline also includes answers to common questions posed by the general public, including information on genetically modified crops, gluten-free diets, juicing/cleanses, and more.

  • There is no evidence at this time that foods made with genetically modified crops are harmful to health or that they affect cancer risk.
  • People with celiac disease should not eat gluten. For people without celiac disease, there is no evidence linking a gluten-free diet with a lower risk of cancer. There are many studies linking whole grains, including those with gluten, with a lower risk of colon cancer.
  • There is no scientific evidence to support claims that drinking only juice for 1 or more days (a “juice cleanse”) reduces cancer risk or provides other health benefits. A diet limited to juice may lack some important nutrients and, in some cases, may even lead to health problems.

Disclosures: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.