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While THE US Department of Agriculture (USDA) touts its newly updated version of the evidence-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans (www.dietaryguidelines.com), you might be able to help others put these principles into practice more effectively and lower their cancer risk by teaching them to implement the advice of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). AICR is urging people to think about how the famous USDA food pyramid should actually translate to the plate in order to fight cancer and other diseases.

“When Americans think about what they eat, they think in terms of meals,” explained Alice Bender, AICR registered dietitian, in a statement promoting the AICR’s healthful-meal program, The New American Plate (www.aicr.org/site/PageServer). “That’s why we should be talking about plates, not pyramids.”

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Obesity is a cause of several cancers, and the typical American diet—high in meat and low in plant foods—increases cancer risk as well. According to AICR, more than 340,000 cancer cases each year could be prevented if Americans ate healthfully, were more active, and maintained a proper weight. Bender noted that although AICR is thrilled that the new USDA guidelines focus on a plant-based diet, her organization is concerned that after three decades of effort, too many Americans are still not following these recommendations. “Clearly, something needs to change,” she observed. “The stakes are too high to go on like this.”

The New American Plate approach itself was developed more than a decade ago to reduce cancer risk. Rather than requiring people to count calories, this initiative encourages people to use food-oriented visual cues to strike the proper nutritional balance during mealtimes. For example, one New American Plate tip instructs the person to check whether the plate’s components are mostly beige and brown—an indication that it consists mostly of meat and potatoes. Color—in the form of healthful vegetables—should be added.

According to AICR, a well-structured plate should include a meat portion no bigger than the palm of one’s hand (approximately 2 to 3 ounces), which should take up about one-third of the dish. The remaining two-thirds should hold colorful, low-calorie vegetables along with moderate-sized portions of whole grains and beans.

AICR provides several online brochures and other materials to help people achieve New American Plate dietary patterns. Available are healthful recipes, information on food proportion and portion sizes, an explanation of the science behind this eating plan, and ordering information for health aids such as New American Plate posters, placemats, and magnets that illustrate how a cancer-fighting plate of food should be composed.

Although the New American Plate information includes strategies for general weight loss, AICR also offers dietary tips specifically geared toward cancer prevention:

Eat mostly plant-based foods, which are low in energy density

Be physically active

Maintain a healthy weight by following steps 1 and 2 and by reducing portion size.

AICR’s nutrition resources extend to persons who currently have cancer as well as those who have survived the disease. The group’s two-part Food for the Fight DVD features experts who answer questions on managing dietary challenges throughout treatment and taking the proper dietary steps to prevent recurrence. The three brochures in the AICR Cancer Survivor Series—which are available online for free, or can be ordered in bulk—are Nutrition of the Cancer Patient, Nutrition of the Cancer Survivor, and Cancer Information: Where to Find Help.

Some brochures are also available in Spanish. ONA