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Food for Thought: The Power of a Plant-Based Diet
By Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.
U-M Cancer Center Nutrition Specialist
Did you know that about one-third of all cancers
are caused by poor diet? Another one-third of cancers are
caused by tobacco (cigarettes, snuff, etc.). In 2002, it is
expected that 1.3 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.
Think about that for a minute. That means that if everyone
ate well and stopped using tobacco products, about one million
of these cancers would never occur. That's how much power
you have over your health.
The single most important nutrition change that you can make
to reduce your risk of cancer is eating a plant-based diet.
Plant-based diet? What does that mean?
Many hundreds of research studies tell us that if we eat a
wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes
(kidney beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.), we
are doing the best thing possible to lower our risk of cancer.
A plant-based diet does not have to be a vegetarian diet.
You can include meat and other 'animal' foods, but you do
need to make sure that only one-quarter of your plate is covered
by these foods. This means that about three-quarters of your
plate needs to be covered by plants - fruits, vegetables,
whole grains and beans.
Foods from the plant kingdom have many other things in them
besides vitamins and minerals. These other nutrients are called
phytochemicals or phytonutrients. 'Phyto' means plant, so
phytochemicals are 'plant chemicals'. We could call them 'Fight-O'
chemicals because they fight cancer so well. Phytochemicals
lower the risk of cancer.
More and more research suggests that to lower cancer risk,
what is missing from your diet is more important than what
is in your diet. In other words, focus on adding healthy plant
foods to improve your diet rather than focusing on cutting
out foods from your diet.
Don't say to yourself, "I can't have this food
or that food." Instead, say to yourself, "What great
plant food can I add into my diet today to improve my health
and lower my risk of cancer?"
Be creative and add any plant food to your diet that you like.
View these changes as a gift not a chore. Give yourself the
gift of better health today by eating more plant foods!
Tips For Eating More Plant Foods
- Rely on frozen produce during the off season.
- Add a handful of frozen blueberries, strawberries or
blackberries to your cereal in the morning.
- Eat a high-fiber, whole grain cereal, such as All-Bran,
Bran-Buds or Raisin Bran; choose a cereal with at least
6 grams of fiber per serving.
- Stuff your favorite omelet with low-fat shredded cheese,
tomatoes and frozen spinach (that has been cooked and
drained); garnish with strawberries or peaches for a fruit
- Choose whole grain, high fiber breads; choose bread
with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Have a glass (6 oz maximum) of 100% fruit juice; change
juices every week for variety.
- Keep little 6 oz cans of low sodium vegetable juice
handy for a quick serving of vegetables.
- Snack on baby carrots and humus; you get both vegetables
and legumes with this snack.
- Eat low-sodium bean or lentil soup for lunch; it's quick
and convenient, and counts as a serving of legumes.
- Use canned beans; rinse well and sprinkle on salad to
add protein and fiber to your meal.
- Use whole grain pasta instead of plain, white pasta;
try Hodgson Mills brand, which you can buy at Kroger &
- For a tasty salad, steam several frozen or fresh vegetables
(cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), until
tender and crisp. Add one-half cup prepared Italian dressing
(try Annie's Naturals or Chelten House brands) per pound
of vegetables; mix well and refrigerate until chilled.
- Improve the nutritional value of your family's favorite
main dish casserole by adding one cup frozen or canned
mixed vegetables; be sure to look for the veggie blends
that include cauliflower, broccoli and carrots.
- Stuff your favorite potato with antioxidant-rich toppings
such as stewed tomatoes, green and red peppers, onions,
broccoli and low-fat cheese; substitute in a sweet potato
and you get even more nutrition value.
- Add a few leaves of kale, chard, mustard greens, collard
greens, dandelion greens or any other green leafy food
to your regular salad.
- To focus on variety, be sure to eat a 'rainbow' of foods
- focus on orange, red, green, yellow, blue, purple, dark
green, etc. (carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, mangoes,
papaya, blueberries, eggplant, kale, collard greens, spinach,
etc.). Even if you eat a lot of plant foods, most people
do not get enough variety for maximum cancer-fighting
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