Cook It Yourself for Better Health
The American Institute for Cancer Research has published a pamphlet providing new guidelines designed to encourage eating healthful foods prepared at home as a way to decrease cancer risk (2004; Homemade for Health—Cooking for Lower Cancer Risk).
As more Americans opt for convenient meals on the go, more are compromising their nutrition. Commercially prepared foods often lack health-promoting and cancer-fighting ingredients such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes (beans, peas, lentils). Large portions and high fat, sodium, and sugar content are other drawbacks of prepared foods. While the United States Department of Agriculture’s standard serving size for meats and poultry is 3 ounces, restaurants commonly serve 8- to 16-ounce portions.
Certain cancers have been linked to dietary habits; for example, eating well-done meats increases breast cancer risk, and colon cancer is linked to high-fat, low-fiber diets. Conversely, a healthful diet may help prevent some cancers. Lycopene, a substance found in tomatoes, may decrease prostate cancer risk. Eating a predominantly plant-based diet that includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and eating fewer animal products, can reduce cancer risk by 30 to 40%.
The new pamphlet contains practical suggestions for incorporating healthful foods into the diet: People who are too busy to cook may consider buying frozen fruits and vegetables or bags of pre-cut veggies to add to a stir-fry. As children learn from watching their parents, setting a positive example and including the whole family in meal preparation will have a lasting impact on children’s food choices. People who prefer commercially prepared foods over home-cooked versions can take heart in the fact that studies have shown that the longer people avoid salty, high-fat, sugary foods, the less they want them. The pamphlet also includes several delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes that even the novice cook can follow.
The pamphlet describes the anti-cancer properties of foods including broccoli, berries, brown rice, cabbage, beans, olive oil, tomatoes, and fish. Other suggestions for healthier eating include replacing saturated fats (butter, shortening) with mono- and polyunsaturated fats (olive and canola oils are good cooking oils), eating low-fat versions of favorite dairy products, avoiding sugary snacks and beverages, and drinking plenty of water.
When people cook, the pamphlet’s authors recommend filling at least two-thirds of one’s plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, and less than one-third with animal protein. They also suggest including a wide variety of colors in every meal, for example, by adding dried fruits to salads, serving sweet potato wedges as a side dish, or putting colorful peppers in a stir-fry. Steaming vegetables preserves nutrients, and moistening dishes with the cooking liquid from pasta is a better choice than using butter or oil. Other strategies for making meals more healthful include using more vegetables than pasta in a favorite pasta dish and pureeing half of the vegetables in a soup for a creamy texture without added fat.
The pamphlet also covers tips on how to stock the kitchen with necessary cooking equipment and pantry basics such as garlic, onions, canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried lentils, whole wheat pasta, nonstick cooking spray, vinegar, soy sauce, dried herbs and spices, and toasted sesame oil.
Perhaps most importantly, the pamphlet encourages people to take control of the foods they eat by preparing meals at home and relying less on the commercial food industry.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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