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September 14, 2012 | 5 minute read

How One Cancer Researcher Put Healthy Eating into Action

My spinach and red cabbage salad with roasted red peppers, smoked almonds, balsamic vinegar, and topped with hummus thinned with almond milk.

Eat healthy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard it all before. We spend money on diet books, we stock our fridges with bags of spinach and carrot sticks, we talk about it, we want it, but we rarely do it (and rarely actually eat those carrots).

But, the fact is that a healthy diet is linked to a lower risk of many cancers and enjoying healthy eating is important because research shows that excess body fat is linked to seven different cancers. An appropriately portioned diet focused on plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans) is a great starting point for your overall health, especially cancer prevention.

Just a few years ago, you would have found me downing tuna helper and ice cream for dinner. Slowly, but surely, I have worked to re-create my view on healthy living. Here are a few healthy eating tips that I now follow on a regular basis. I hope you try them out, tweak them to fit your life, and soon find yourself eating massive piles of spinach and…enjoying it.

Tip #1. Keep your fridge stocked. If you open your fridge and there is only one lone can of Sprite in the corner, I don’t blame you for grabbing your keys and hitting the drive-through. Instead, stock up at the grocery store. Buy enough healthy food (that you actually like) so you have choices, variety, and excitement when you open the fridge.

Tip #2. Embrace the power of the salad. I believe in the power of the salad. For me, at least, an embarrassingly-large salad filled with healthy fats and protein makes the perfect meal. Salads are the perfect canvas for being creative; I never eat the same combination two days in a row. Salads keep me satiated, energetic, and ensure I meet my veggie-quota for the day. Embrace it, folks.

Tip #3. Balance. This is the mother of all tips and the key word for living a healthy lifestyle. Balance. Balance your meals, balance your daily intake, and balance your weekly diet. First, balance your meals. I follow a simple formula (this way, even my boyfriend can make dinner): protein + healthy carbohydrate + veggie. The protein doesn’t have to be meat, in fact, for us it rarely is (try: eggs, cheese, nuts, veggie burgers); the carb can be anything from brown rice to whole-wheat toast; and the veggie should be plentiful and kept exciting (I usually amp up the excitement factor by adding a bit of healthy fat to my veggie [e.g., olive oil, goat cheese]).

Second, balance your daily intake. If you have a carb-heavy breakfast (like I do), make your lunch light on the carbs (see Tip #2). I try and never have two similarly composed meals back-to-back. Our bodies and minds need variety and….balance. Likewise, if you went out to lunch with your co-workers and indulged, lighten up your dinner.

Finally, balance your weekly diet. For me, this means eating healthier during the week and treating myself a bit on the weekends. I do this mindfully and never feel guilty. What is life without chocolate cake, after all?

Tip #4. Eat healthy snacks. Your snacks should fuel you. I always make sure my snacks have a significant source of protein, otherwise they will do nothing to satisfy my hunger

A healthy snack: a Gala apple and a mix of shredded wheat and cocoa-roast almonds.

and I’ll be hitting up the vending machine one hour later. I also use them as an outlet to ensure I’m getting all my nutrition needs met. If I haven’t had fruit yet, for example, I’ll grab an apple and almonds. If I’m low on calcium, I’ll make a bowl of Greek yogurt and whole-grain cereal.

Tip #5. Cook. This is the tip that ties everything together. When your schedule and energy levels permit, cook. Just a year or so ago I subsisted on frozen entrees. Armed with a Cooking Light subscription and meal ideas garnered from hours of scouring healthy living blogs, I cast my inhibitions to the side and started to cook. It began with weekend adventures (some successful, some not), but I quickly realized how even a home cooked meal could come together quickly and healthfully on a busy Tuesday night. Now, I love cooking exciting and healthy meals with whole foods. Cooking allows you to maintain balance, eat the way you like, and is not only good for your waist-line (and wallet), but it is good for your soul

By day, Dr. Sara Wagner is an Assistant Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. In her ‘less serious life’, she blogs about heath, fitness, and fashion with a scientific spin at mylessseriouslife.blogspot.com and on Twitter @lesseriouslife.

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