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A colorful plate helps protect against cancer

You don't smoke. You wear sunscreen. You exercise regularly. But your breakfast usually consists of a donut or store-bought muffin as you run out the door, lunch is something from the vending machine, and dinner is grabbed at the drive-thru. These decisions about what you eat may be doing more harm to your health than you think.

The foods we eat can have a major impact on our health, including an increased risk for cancer. Research shows eating a healthy diet focused on plant-based foods may help protect against a wide range of cancers.

What is a plant-based diet? Katie Barker, RDN, CD, outpatient dietitian at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), says it's more than just fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds, spices, and whole grains are all part of a healthy diet.

"These foods have vitamins and minerals. They contain phytochemicals that may help protect our cells from cancer. They also provide volume and fiber to keep us full without as many calories," she says.

Katie says maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most effective ways to fight cancer, even for people who have already been treated for the disease. "Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy body weight and eating these plant-based, cancer-fighting foods is definitely helpful in preventing a recurrence," she says.

The key is to eat a variety of foods in a variety of colors. "Red, yellow, green, dark green, purple-including all of the natural colors of food in your meals is beneficial," she says. "Snacking on fruits and vegetables is also another way to bring them into your diet."

Need some guidance on your healthy diet? The next time you are in a grocery store, look for these cancer-fighting foods:

  • Fruits: apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit, grapes
  • Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, kale, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, winter squash
  • Whole grains: 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, oats
  • Proteins: kidney beans, black beans, edamame, lentils, peas, tofu
  • Nuts and seeds: flax seed, walnuts
  • Drinks: coffee, green tea

This recipe from NCI is a great example of how to use a variety of cancer-fighting foods to make a delicious, healthy meal.

Tuscan Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano

Makes 4 servings

1 can (15.5 oz.) low-sodium chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

2 cupscherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved

1 tablespoonolive oil

1 teaspoonbalsamic vinegar

2 tablespoonsfresh oregano, minced (or 2 teaspoons dried)

? teaspoonground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend

Spinach leaves

Instructions:

  1. In a large salad bowl, combine beans and tomatoes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and salt-free seasoning blend. Using a wire whisk, blend the ingredients until they thicken and the oil and vinegar no longer separate.
  3. Pour the dressing over the beans and tomatoes and mix gently to coat.
  4. Serve each portion on a bed of spinach or mix the spinach into the salad just before serving.

Tip: Serve with crusty whole-grain bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.

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