Prostate cancer happens to roughly one in six men throughout their lifetime. Men who have first-degree relatives with prostate cancer, African-American men, patients with obesity, and those who used tobacco, can expect a higher chance of developing cancer of the prostate.
The good news is that healthy dietary habits can potentially offset the risk of prostate cancer. This article takes a look at foods and dietary factors that might alleviate the risk of this disease.
We’ve compiled information from top professionals in relation to this topic, including a Medical Doctor and registered dietitian, who offer their advice on how particular foods can help prevent prostate cancer.
Keep in mind that this article is not intended as a cure or medical advice. Rather, this information is for educational purposes only and should not replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider.
Let’s begin by discussing prostate cancer, including what it is, who it affects and the potential risk factors. Later on, we’ll explore dietary habits and the role foods play in relation to cancer, with specific guidelines for a healthy diet, according to expert studies.
What Is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is when healthy cells in the prostate develop errors in their DNA and cannot repair themselves, explained Socorro Carranza, an outpatient registered dietitian at Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital in Southern California.
“Healthy cells without errors can grow and divide at a normal rate and work and function normally,” Carranza said. “However, in damaged cells that become cancerous, the cells continue to divide uncontrollably and form a tumor.”
How Many Men Are Affected by Prostate Cancer?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, prostate cancer has declined 3.2% among men from 2003 to 2012.
“The main reason for the decline is the improvement in diagnosing prostate cancer with the development of the PSA test,” Carranza noted. “This test detects the prostate cancer before it is palpable as a mass on a rectal exam.”
Approximately 161,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, noted Kamyar Ebrahimi, a Medical Doctor and a fellowship-trained urologist in the field of robotic surgery at Adventist Health Glendale in Southern California.
“And little over 26,000 will likely succumb to this disease,” Dr. Ebrahimi said.
These predictions do show a decrease in the overall trend of diagnosis and death from prostate cancer.
“More encouragingly, long-term survival with prostate cancer is increasing overall likely due to the fact that there is a relatively early detection of this disease process and there are multiple means of treating this disease,” Dr. Ebrahimi said.
What Are Some of the Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer?
The risk factors for prostate cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control, include:
Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men. It tends to start at younger ages and grow faster than in other racial or ethnic groups, but medical experts do not know why.
Age: the higher the age the higher the risk of getting prostate cancer.
Family history: A man with a father, brother, or son who has had prostate cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease himself.
Now that we’ve discussed what prostate cancer is and who it affects, let’s explore the link between nutrition and prostate cancer.
Nutrition and Prostate Cancer
Dietary habits can certainly pose problems for patients in terms of not only developing prostate cancer or any other cancer but their overall health including cardiovascular status, according to Dr. Ebrahimi.
Aside from the risk factors – which include a first-degree relative with prostate cancer, African-American race, obesity and tobacco use – other risk factors for prostate cancer include a diet which is high in fats, radiation exposure and possibly low vitamin D and calcium levels, Dr. Ebrahimi said.
“When I counsel my patients with regards to any disease process, and particularly about prostate cancer and its prevention, I try to emphasize the importance of a heart healthy diet,” Dr. Ebrahimi said.
In general, that means a diet which is mostly based on plants.
“Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables is a key to keep patient’s feeling satisfied,” Dr. Ebrahimi noted.
He also advises his patients to eat all colors of fruits and vegetables to obtain the necessary nutrients and vitamins so they don’t have to rely on supplements.
“I typically recommend a Mediterranean style diet which emphasizes on a moderate intake of healthy fats and limits the amount of carbohydrates,” Dr. Ebrahimi advised.
He also recommends increasing fish and poultry intake in lieu of red meats. For instance, salmon, herring, mackerel, and anchovy, which contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, are a very tasty and easy way to incorporate this beneficial component in the diet, Dr. Ebrahimi said.
“This can also increase the amount of good cholesterol in patients which has been shown to correlate with prostate health,” he said.
Dr. Ebrahimi also recommends nuts, which can have increased amounts of polyunsaturated fats and generally have lower amounts of carbohydrates.
“In particular I like almonds and macadamia nuts in this category,” he said. “I think increasing foods that are high in the amount of antioxidants, such as blueberries, is also a very beneficial additive.”
Well-Balanced Diet Can Help Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer
Having a well-balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat and managing weight can definitely help a man reduce his risk of getting prostate cancer, according to Carranza.
“Population studies show a strong link between diet and the development of prostate cancer,” Carranza said.
For example, in the last 20 years since American fast foods have been introduced in Japan, obesity has increased from 5% to 20% – and the incidence of prostate cancer has also increased.
“In addition, it has been noted that when people from countries with low incidence of prostate cancer, like China, move to the U.S., their risk of developing prostate cancer increases,” Carranza noted.
Fortunately, men can help protect themselves against prostate cancer by increasing their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“When people increase their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables they increase their intake of fiber and cancer fighting micronutrients such as phytonutrients and antioxidants,” Carranza explained. “Phytonutrients and antioxidants help the body fight against and prevent the process that causes damage to the DNA, and thus help prevent cancer from forming.”
Specific foods that help this process are foods high in vitamin C, including citrus, kiwis, berries, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, broccoli and tomatoes, Carranza said. Other helpful foods are those high in vitamin E, such as almonds, spinach, avocado, sweet potato, tomatoes, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, chives, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower.
“Eat simply – make foods from scratch if possible,” Carranza advised. “Eat 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber, and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, every day.”
According to the American Cancer Society, several studies suggest that diets high in certain vegetables – including tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage – or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers.
The next section offers more specific guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a study on nutrition and prostate cancer conducted by UC San Francisco Medical Center, which has been named among the nation’s premier medical institutions for the 17th consecutive year, ranking as the fifth best hospital in the country and the top-ranked hospital in California.
Guidelines for a Healthy Diet That Can Help Prevent Prostate Cancer
Differences in diet and lifestyle may account for the variability of prostate cancer rates in different countries.
The study on nutrition and prostate cancer conducted by UC San Francisco Medical Center indicated that “good nutrition may reduce the incidence of prostate cancer and help reduce the risk of prostate cancer progression.” Additionally, “there are many studies currently being conducted to further understand how diet and prostate cancer are related.”
The study offered several guidelines for a healthy diet:
- Primarily plant-based
- Include plenty of fruits and vegetables
- High in fiber
- Low in fat
- Limited in the amount of simple sugars
In addition, drink adequate fluids and be physically active to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
1. Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables
The study also noted that it is also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Here are a few reasons why:
They contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber as well as various cancer-fighting phytochemicals, such as carotenoids, lycopene, indoles, and flavonols.
There is consistent evidence that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with decreased risks of many cancers. While results for prostate cancer risk are not yet conclusive, they are promising.
Men who consumed at least 28 servings of vegetables per week had a reduced risk of prostate cancer compared with those who ate fewer than 14 servings per week.
There is some evidence that vegetables — particularly cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and bok choy — may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
Men who ate three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables per week had a 41 percent decreased risk of prostate cancer compared with men who ate less than one serving per week.
The benefit of fruits and vegetables in regards to cancer protection may be related to high amounts of carotenoids in certain fruits and vegetables, according to some key population studies.
One study indicated that fructose, or fruit sugar, resulted in a lower risk of prostate cancer.
What to Do: Consume at least five, preferably eight to 10, servings of fruits and vegetables daily for their cancer protective effects. One serving equates to:
- 1/2 cup fruit or vegetable
- 1 cup raw leafy greens
- 1/4 cup dried fruit or vegetable
- 6 fluid ounces of fruit or vegetable juice
2. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily
According to the study, a plant-based diet is naturally high in fiber, which has a number of benefits:
Fiber may bind to toxic compounds and carcinogens, which are then later eliminated from the body.
A high-fiber diet works to reduce hormone levels that may be involved in the progression of prostate cancer.
One study indicated that a high-fiber, low-fat diet followed only for 10 days resulted in serum changes that reduced the growth of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer mortality is inversely associated with consumption of cereals and nuts or seeds, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
A diet rich in natural fiber obtained from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains such as whole-grain cereals and breads may reduce cancer risk and reduce the risk of prostate cancer progression.
What to Do: Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. To get more fiber, choose breads with three or more grams of fiber per slice. The first ingredient on the label should be whole or sprouted grain flour, not white flour or unbleached white flour. Also, include whole grains — such as oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, and millet — in your diet.
For more ideas on how to get more fiber, see Increasing Fiber Intake.
3. Eat a Low-Fat Diet
Additionally, eating a low-fat diet has many benefits. Here are some points to keep in mind.
The increased cancer risk observed in developed countries may be, in part, due to the fact that a high-fat diet stimulates increased testosterone levels, which is known to be associated with prostate cancer growth.
A comprehensive review reported that 24 of 32 studies found positive, although not all statistically significant, associations between dietary fat intake and prostate cancer risk.
Prospective studies to date, however, have failed to find a consistent association between prostate cancer and overall fat intake.
What to Do: Most researchers agree to aim for 20 percent of your total calories from fat, with less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat.
The type of fat is significant. According to research conducted by UC San Francisco Medical Center, several studies indicate a positive association between saturated fat intake from meat and dairy products and prostate cancer. Intakes of red meat and dairy products appear also to be related to increased risk of metastatic prostate cancer. Therefore, it is wise to reduce or eliminate consumption of red meat, milk and other dairy products.
What to Do: Reduce or eliminate consumption of red meat, milk and other dairy products. Limit use of butter, mayonnaise, baked goods and regular salad dressing due to their high saturated fat and total fat content. Consider rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or salsa as alternative salad dressings. Limit cheese consumption. Cheese is typically between 60 to 80 percent fat, much of which is saturated fat.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risks for prostate cancer and cancer progression. They induce apoptosis (cell death), suppress cancer cell initiation and compete with arachidonic acid, which limits harm from arachidonic acid. One study indicated that men who consumed cold-water fish three to four times per week had a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
A more recent study found similar results. Men who consumed fish three or more times per week also had a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially for metastatic prostate cancer where the effect was even greater.
Researchers in New Zealand reported that men with high levels of EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fats found in fish, had a 40 percent lower risk of prostate cancer than those with low blood levels.
A 30-year follow-up study found that men who ate no fish had a two to three times higher frequency of prostate cancer than those who ate moderate or high amounts of fish. The mechanism of cancer reduction may occur through the inhibition of arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoid biosynthesis.
Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include coldwater fish — such as salmon, trout, herring and sardines — flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.
What to Do: It may be wise to consume fish at least twice weekly to obtain an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish and plant-based foods contain different types of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two specific fatty acids that have shown promising results in research. The plant-based omega-3 fatty acid sources, such as flaxseed and others listed above, contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
In an ideal environment, ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, however, in 10 percent to 20 percent of the population, this conversion process is dysfunctional. On the positive side, the conversion process is enhanced by following a diet that is low in saturated fats and low in omega-6 fatty acids.
Nuts are highly concentrated in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are neutral in terms of stimulating cancer growth and may be beneficial for heart disease. They are, however, high in fat.
What to Do: Minimize consumption of nuts due to their high fat content. This includes peanuts, macadamia nuts and pistachios.
More Key Points About Fat
- Less fat is better
- Olive oil is preferred
- Avoid hydrogenated fats
- Increase dietary omega-3 fatty acids
6. Simple Sugars
Limit the amount of simple sugar in your diet. High-sugar foods are usually:
- Highly processed and refined
- Low in nutrient value
- Low in fiber
Furthermore, these foods appear to increase serum insulin and serum IGF-I levels, which may stimulate cancer cell growth.
What to Do: Simple sugars should be consumed in limited amounts. Avoid sweets such as candy, cookies, cakes, and pies. Limit your intake of products made with refined flours.
Your body needs an adequate amount of fluid. Water in the body:
- Carries nutrients and waste products
- Participates in chemical reactions
- Acts as a lubricant and cushion around joints
- Acts as a shock absorber in the eyes and spinal cord
- Aids in the body's temperature regulation
- Maintains blood volume
In addition, the body needs more fluid when eating a high-fiber diet.
What to Do: Drink plenty of water daily to help meet fluid needs. Note that caffeine acts as a diuretic, increasing water loss. Your fluid needs increase with high consumption of caffeinated beverages.
8. Modest Caloric Restriction
Some evidence indicates that a high caloric intake increases one's risk of various cancers, including prostate cancer. A case-control study reported a 115 percent increase risk in local prostate cancer and a 96 percent increase risk in regional/distant prostate cancer for those consuming higher calorie diets (2,439 or more calories a day) compared with individuals consuming a lower calorie diet (less than 1,322 calories a day).
In a separate study, researchers reported a nearly four-fold increase in prostate cancer risk in men who consumed the most calories (more than 2,624 calories a day) compared with men who consumed the least calories (1,064 calories a day).
An earlier study found that caloric intake was positively associated with preclinical prostate cancer risk; as caloric intake increased, cancer risk rose significantly. The greatest risk was for subjects who consumed more than 3,475 calories a day. All of this suggests that the mechanism involved may be related to the decrease in IGF-I observed when caloric intake is restricted.
It’s also important to know what foods to avoid in relation to prostate cancer, which we cover in the next section.
Foods to Avoid
Carranza recommends avoiding fast food as much as possible, reducing or eliminating red meat, and reducing cheese intake – as well as holding the mayonnaise, butter or margarine on top of foods or cooking.
Reducing or avoiding the intake of processed baked goods and processed snack foods is also suggested.
Additionally, “completely avoid trans fat in foods,” Carranza advised. “When looking at the ingredients in a product, make sure you do not see hydrogenated oil.”
Carranza added that there is some evidence that fats high in linoleic acid can increase the risk of prostate cancer.
“These include corn, cottonseed, soybean, and peanut oils,” Carranza said.
Trans fatty acids are known to be atherogenic, or heart disease causing, according to the study on nutrition and prostate cancer conducted by UC San Francisco Medical Center. They also may cause an imbalance in hormonal systems that regulate healing, lead to the construction of defective membranes and encourage the development of cancer.
What to Do: Limit use of hydrogenated fats found in products such as margarine, fried foods and processed foods, which are high in harmful trans fatty acids. When you read that a product contains "hydrogenated" or "partially-hydrogenated" oils, you may want to consider putting it back on the shelf. Trans fatty acid labeling went into effect in 2006, so nutritional labels should spell out the amount of trans fatty acids in the product.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids, which is linoleic acid that can be converted to arachidonic acid, may stimulate growth of prostate cancer cells, noted the study on nutrition and prostate cancer conducted by UC San Francisco Medical Center. These fatty acids are found in corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and other polyunsaturated oils.
What to Do: Substitute olive oil for your current cooking oil, but remember to use in moderation. These oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, which have not been shown to increase cancer risk.
The Bottom Line on Dietary Habits & Prostate Cancer
A diet with high amounts of fat can be very much detrimental to cardiovascular health, but also to a person's chance of developing cancer, Dr. Ebrahimi said. Also, excessive amounts of alcohol intake can affect these risks.
“The most important things to keep in mind are that changes in health are not instantaneous and take a long-term approach to accomplish,” Dr. Ebrahimi noted. “I advocate changes that are easy to implement, but can be done over a lifetime which can enhance the person's overall health.”
It’s important to have a well-balanced meal that includes most foods groups, Carranza advised, and using the plate method for planning meals can be effective.
“This includes using a small nine-inch plate, with half of the plate filled with vegetables, ¼ of the plate in lean protein, and ¼ of the plate in whole grain starches,” Carranza explained.
Dr. Ebrahimi added that most men don't have the time that it takes to exercise or to tend to their health every day.
“So I stress the importance of taking small steps in incorporating these health and dietary changes,” Dr. Ebrahimi said.
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