It’s Cancer Prevention Month—time to think about what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. An estimated one-third of the most common cancer cases can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle: diet, exercise, and a healthy weight. Your daily food choices can create a cancer-promoting environment, or a cancer-fighting one.
So, what’s the picture perfect diet for cancer protection? It’s a plant-based diet—a diet rich in whole, minimally processed plant foods, such as legumes (beans, lentils, peas), whole grains, vegetable, fruits, nuts and seeds. You should pile your plate at least two-thirds full of these foods at every meal. That’s because whole plant foods contain a symphony of health-protective nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that can fight oxidative stress and inflammation—roots of cancer and other chronic diseases—and boost your immune function.
If you’re new to plant-based eating, it may seem challenging: there are vegetables to chop, beans to soak, whole grains to cook, and new food ingredients, such as tofu, to discover. But it doesn’t have to be complicated!
Here are my top three tips to get started:
1. Plan Your Main Course Around Plants. What’s for dinner? Most people answer that question with an animal food—beef, chicken, fish—when planning their evening meal; the plant foods are just an afterthought. The typical American plate features a hefty portion of animal food at the center of the plate, such as steak or roasted chicken, and a scoop of mashed potatoes or rice pilaf and a small pile of cooked vegetables on the side.
How about turning the tables on your meal planning? Instead of starting with the animal food, start with the plant food! Maybe you saw a beautiful Tuscan kale at the market. Why not simmer it with white beans, garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes and serve it with steamed farro. Now, that’s delicious plant-powered menu planning at its finest.
2. Join the Meatless Monday Movement. This easy campaign simply suggests that you go vegetarian just one day a week for health and environmental benefits. And since Monday is our favorite day of the week for healthy behaviors, why not start the week right by going meatless on Monday! Everyone is doing Meatless Monday these days, from entire cities, like my hometown of Los Angeles, to universities, restaurants, and celebrities. The Meatless Monday website is chock full of inspiration, including articles, recipes, and more.
3. Give Your Favorite Meals a Plant-Powered Makeover. Just convert your favorite recipe to a better, plant-based version. Say you have a classic lasagna recipe. Skip the meat and pile on the veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, and eggplant. Or perhaps you look forward to taco night once a week—why not make it veggie taco night? Just swap out the taco meat for black beans and load up on avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, and more.
Go ahead, and fall in love with plants! Make every meal more plant-based. Start the day off right with a bowl of whole grain oat porridge with chopped walnuts, bananas, and a splash of soy or almond milk. Feast on a hearty lunchtime salad, such as kale with quinoa, black beans, pine nuts, and tomatoes. And get creative with your dinner menu; try a Moroccan chickpea vegetable tagine with couscous or a lentil curry with brown basmati rice. When it comes to plant foods, it never gets boring. There are literally thousands of varieties of plant foods, offering an array of vibrant colors, textures, flavors and nutrition, just waiting to be discovered.
Sharon Palmer, RD, is a dietitian, plant-based nutrition expert, editor of the award-winning publication, Environmental Nutrition, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet, Plant-Powered for Life, and The Plant-Powered Blog. You can find recipes, blogs, articles, and nutrition information on her website www.sharonpalmer.com, and follow her on twitter at @SharonPalmerRD.