Have you ever heard of the saying, “you are what you eat”? As a registered dietitian nutritionist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I always tell my patients, “what you put into your body plays a huge role in your health.” Research shows that a diet filled with a variety of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds can help lower risk of many cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) highlights in detail Foods That Fight CancerTM along with foods to steer clear of to help individuals make more informed food choices.
I frequently hear from students and parents on the need to have a stronger emphasis on serving healthier whole foods throughout the day on campus. I sense an eagerness among many students to learn to eat a better diet and they seem to be willing to put in more effort into meal planning and learning about nutrition. To capitalize on this movement and help students focus on their health and disease prevention, I dedicated a week in February to focus on bringing cancer prevention awareness to the forefront by celebrating and supporting the American Institute for Cancer Research’s National Cancer Prevention Month Campaign.
For an entire week (February 7–11) we served cancer protective recipes with the help of the culinary team at the Rocky Top Dining Hall. Together we created a menu that featured one of AICR’s recipes daily to demonstrate how easy it is to include whole grains, fruits and vegetables in our diet. The additional menu items featured several of AICR’s Foods That Fight CancerTM to further emphasize the importance of eating these nutrient dense foods. Water with fresh fruits and herbs was offered to students to encourage hydration and provide a healthy alternative to sugar sweetened beverages.
- Monday: Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze paired with grilled garlic herb-salmon and wild rice
- Tuesday: Turkey Meatloaf with tomato basil farro and grilled green beans
- Wednesday: Warm Kale Salad complimented by a cauliflower lentil curry and sliced grilled chicken
- Thursday: Orange Cream Shake paired with a Mediterranean falafel plate
- Friday: Fresh and Light Veggie Pad Thai set up to build-your-own plate
To tie it all together, I included several materials on the “Dietitian Station Takeover.”
The station had a variety of educational materials such as AICR’s 10 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Cancer, and a QR code that linked students directly to AICR’s Foods That Fight CancerTM webpage. We also used AICR’s Healthy Living Calendar for helpful tips on how to make simple lifestyle changes each day such as trying a new vegetable or walking for a mile.
The event was a huge success with the students! The recipes from AICR, in particular, received great feedback and they were often the first pans to need refills. Since these are foods that students are typically not exposed to often in the dining halls, I am hopeful that they will be more willing to order or make dishes that feature nutrient dense foods like those found in AICR’s Foods That Fight CancerTM.
Abigail Manning, one of the regulars at the dining hall, stopped by to take home some of the learning resources. She said, “Based on my family’s battles with various cancers, I am proud the Vol Dining Dietitian is shedding light on foods that help prevent cancer. I was most excited to learn coffee lowers the risk of liver and endometrial cancers because this is my favorite drink around campus!”
If you are a dietitian, work in foodservice or are involved with health and wellness at a university, I encourage you to think outside of the box to find new and more exciting ways to reach the students. Educating the younger population on how simple lifestyle changes like diet and nutrition can have a positive effect on their health and cancer risk is critical to living a healthier life free of cancer and other chronic diseases.