Study: What you eat matters when it comes to avoiding cancer

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A new study tackles the affect of your diet on cancer. Researchers at Tufts University found about 5 percent of cancer cases in the U.S. in 2015 were directly attributed to poor diet. That amounts to about 80,000 cases of cancer preventable just by changing what you eat.

"Dietary assessment is very difficult," said Jean Harvey, the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department Chair at the University of Vermont, and a member of the University of Vermont Cancer Center. She says the Tufts study showed that when it comes to cancer risk, poor diet was about as strong as drinking excessively or not exercising. "Of the things that you can do to prevent cancer, it's got a fairly good bang for your buck, right?"

The study looked at a wide range of people from around the country to come to its conclusions. It found to lower your cancer risk, you should eat:
- More whole grains, such as wheat flour instead of white flour and brown rice instead of white.
- Less processed meat, including deli meats and smoked, cured, and salted meats.
- Less red meat overall
- More fruits & veggies
- Less sugar-sweetened beverages
- More dairy

"They're not eating enough dairy. And that was a surprise to me that it was so strongly related to cancer risk," Harvey said. "I think the processed meats one is difficult." Difficult but important, she says. This is the second major study this year to find that you should not bring home the bacon, or at least bring home less of it. "It's not like you have to get to this amount of processed meat or this amount of dairy. "If you just try to improve a little bit then you're better off."

So how do you make changes that stick? Harvey says when she works with people, they:
- Try to set small, measurable goals, like increasing their veggie intake by 50 grams.
- Look at what they are doing right now and how they can change their routine.
- Teach them how to read food labels.
- Learning how to identify processed foods.

"We're not saying not to have any, but to have as little as possible," Harvey said.

Cancer kills about 1,300 Vermonters each year. It's the leading cause of death in the Green Mountains. About 8 percent of Vermonters have been diagnosed with cancer at some point.