By Julie LG Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN

Wellness Director, Cancer Services

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When it comes to preventing lung cancer, many people think it’s a simple prescription: Don’t smoke. While there’s no question that smoking is the most influential risk factor for developing lung cancer, there are several nutrition-related factors about which people should be informed.

Consuming a plant-based diet high in fruits and vegetables results in the optimal intake of nutrients known to reduce lung cancer risk.[1] Many of the compounds found in plant foods have antiviral, antimicrobial, and antineoplastic properties that benefit the plant. When we eat these plants, they in turn have the same properties within our bodies to help prevent disease.

According to a review of observational studies on diet and lung cancer looking at both prospective and retrospective, in various countries, in smokers, former-smokers, and never smokers, and for all types of lung cancer, we continue to see that increased vegetable and fruit intake is associated with reduced risk of lung cancer in men and women.[2]

Based on current studies, the following foods show promise for reducing the risk of lung cancer:

  • Tea (green, black, oolong, white);
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy);
  • Soyfoods (soybeans, tempeh, tofu, soymilk, soy nuts, edamame, miso soup);
  • Carotenoid-rich foods (carrots, sweet potatoes, dark-green leafy vegetables, tomatoes);
  • Curcumin (found in mustard, turmeric, or curry); and
  • Quercetin (found in citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, sage, tea, olive oil, grapes, dark cherries, dark berries).

While nothing magical occurs if you include these foods in your diet, the biggest impact will come when these foods are included in the context of a plant-based diet. Consuming these foods at least three times per week would be a good place to start.

For those currently in treatment for lung cancer, adding calories by doubling or tripling fruit intake might offer important extra benefits in maintaining body weight and improving well-being as the possible effects on lung cancer prognosis are being assessed.

Cancer Prevention Recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research

It is recommended that all people follow the following suggestions to reduce their risk for a primary lung cancer or for a recurrence of lung cancer. These recommendations are also helpful in maintaining a healthy heart and reduce risk for other types of disease:

  • Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat).
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
  • Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
  • If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
  • Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
  • Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.
  • For breast-feeding mothers, it’s best to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months, then add other liquids and foods.

After treatment, cancer survivors should follow these recommendations also for cancer prevention.

For more information on nutrition and cancer, visit

To find a Registered Dietitian who specializes in oncology, go to and click on the ‘find an oncology dietitian’ link.


Julie LG Lanford, MPH, RDN, CSO, LDN is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition. She currently serves as Wellness Director at Cancer Services, Inc in Winston-Salem. Julie regularly writes, teaches and myth busts about nutrition and cancer at

[1] Yong L-C, Brown CC, Schatzkin A, et al. Intake of vitamins E, C, and A and risk of lung cancer. The NHANES I epidemiologic followup study. Am J Epidemiol. 1997;146(3):231-243.

[2] Ziegler RG, Mayne ST, Swanson CA. Nutrition and lung cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 1996;7(1):157-177.

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