Whether you are a cancer survivor seeking ways to navigate your way to healthier eating habits, or someone who wants to reduce risk of cancer without jumping from one hyped-up claim to another, taking stock of the variety in your everyday food choices can be an excellent starting point. This step fits well as part of AICR’s iTHRIVE Plan for survivors, as well as AICR’s New American Plate Challenge that combines cancer risk reduction strategies with a realistic approach to managing weight.
Expanding variety of foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits and pulses (dried beans, dried peas and lentils) can improve the quality of your overall eating habits and make healthful eating more fun.
Choosing a broad variety of vegetables throughout the week lets you cast a wide net of potential protection from different nutrients and phytochemicals (natural plant compounds). Foods containing vitamin C, beta-carotene, and carotenoids overall are identified in AICR’s latest landmark report on diet and cancer as showing potential to reduce risk. Other vegetables, like the cruciferous and garlic families, might also add protection, based on laboratory evidence that requires further human study.
The other side of expanding vegetable variety is that it can make it easier and more enjoyable to eat recommended amounts. Greater consumption of non-starchy vegetables might lower risk of at least five different cancers, according to the AICR report. And when vegetables occupy a substantial portion of your plate, they may also help reduce cancer risk and promote overall health by helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which is itself linked with lower risk of at least 12 cancers.
If you want to make healthy eating a long-term habit, don’t let it become boring! Variety can bring new life to stuck-in-a-rut habits!
● For those reluctant about exploring unfamiliar vegetables, start by flavoring them, or serve them in a mixed dish with more familiar foods.
● Ease vegetables that can have a stronger flavor, such as broccoli and some other cruciferous vegetables, into a dish with robust flavor to balance the veggies. For example, try them in a pasta dish with a flavorful tomato sauce or an Asian-inspired stir-fry with hoisin sauce or a sweetly spicy peanut sauce.
Whole New World of Whole Grains
Strong evidence links whole grains with a lower risk of colorectal cancer, and they may help avoid unintentional weight gain, too. Keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of whole grains.
● Start by using familiar whole grains to replace a refined grain in favorite casseroles or soups, or as the base for your favorite stir-fry. If you don’t have time for regular brown rice, choose quick-cooking brown rice that’s ready in 10 minutes or less, or cook up a batch of regular brown rice and freeze in smaller portions that can be ready on-demand. Other quick-cooking whole grains include couscous, quinoa, and bulgur.
● Go beyond bulgur, barley, and quinoa – try wheat berries, amaranth, freekeh, and whole farro. These intact whole grains will keep up to six months in a cool dry cabinet, or up to a year in the freezer. And they’re naturally lower in sodium than bread and most cereals, making them a boon for overall healthful eating.
The Fruit Files
Fruits, and particular choices like citrus fruits and those high in vitamin C, may help lower risk of several cancers. Moreover, their color and lightly sweet taste make healthful meals so appealing.
● Try different varieties of fruits like apples and pears. As you slow down to focus on differences in flavor and texture, a snack with moderate portions is often quite satisfying.
● Enjoy fruit in a green salad, use it to replace jelly in sandwiches, add it to unsweetened yogurt to replace regular high-sugar options, and choose fruit plus nuts for an afternoon snack instead of chips or cookies.
Potpourri of Pulses
Pulses – dried beans, dried peas, and lentils – are among the most concentrated sources of dietary fiber. Pulses also contain substances that seem to support a health-promoting gut. Including them often is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you reach the recommended fiber target for lower risk of colorectal cancer.
● Swap pulses for some or all the meat in a stew or pasta sauce. Blend them to make hummus or other dip or spread for sandwiches. Add them to soup or salad; if you include enough, you can turn a side dish into a main dish.
● Experiment to see how taste and texture differences of kidney, navy and black beans and chickpeas fits with different dishes. Explore how different types of lentils subtly shape soups and mixed dishes.
Variety in the Big Picture
A variety of healthful foods make sense, whether you target variety as a way to expand the nutritional quality of your food, for the potential research suggests to support weight management or to maximize enjoyment that makes it easier to keep healthy eating a long-term habit.
If you are a cancer survivor considering options for healthy eating among the other lifestyle steps in a personalized AICR iTHRIVE Plan, variety can play a role. If you’re looking at a path to realistic eating and physical activity choices that promote health and help reduce cancer risk, expanding variety is one of the multiple steps in the New American Plate Challenge that can guide and support your journey.