Stock these healthy staples in your kitchen
Numerous studies show the link between unhealthy eating and cancer. About 18% of cancers and 16% of cancer deaths are due to factors such as poor diet, excess body weight, alcohol intake, and lack of exercise, according to the American Cancer Society. But what should you be eating if you want to prevent cancer?
“The diet we think about that helps to prevent cancer is very similar to the diet we give our cancer survivors,” says Claudia Tellez, MD, an oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “You want to maintain a healthy body weight, so the general concepts are to limit the amount of fat, limit the sugar. I tell my patients that you want to have a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and [includes] lean protein.”
An anti-cancer diet starts with fresh vegetables and fruits. “You’ll want to keep lots of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand, especially cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower,” says Beth Gordon, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.
The key is to keep cut-up vegetables in the fridge, ready for healthy snacking, Tellez says. “I always tell my patients to get some carrots and some celery, cut them up, and they’re there. You can just grab them when you need some crunch, rather than going to potato chips,” she says.
While frozen is good, fresh is best, says Nancy Zawicki, RD, an oncology dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Cancer Center. “I always suggest people grocery shop once a week. I tell them to use the vegetables that might go bad first, and then, later in the week, use up the root vegetables or the broccoli or cauliflower, which last longer,” she says.
Pack Your Pantry
To create a cancer-fighting pantry, look for nutrient-dense foods. Check the ingredients for low-sugar and low-sodium options.
Keep it whole
Whole-grain carbohydrates are better than refined starches. Look for quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, and whole-grain pastas. “But you need to read the labels,” says oncology dietitian Nancy Zawicki. For instance, multigrain, which means a variety of grains, is not the same as whole grain.
Put beans in your bag
Dried or canned black beans, red beans, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas are full of fiber. Throw them into stews, soups, chilis, and slow-cooker dishes. Registered dietitian Beth Gordon recommends roasting chickpeas for a healthy snack.
Nuts and nut butters are a good pantry item, but make sure that they have no or low sodium. For nut butters, such as peanut butter or almond butter, check that the only ingredient is the nuts themselves. Avoid nut butters that have hydrogenated oils added.
Opt for olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil, included in the Mediterranean diet, is a go-to oil for sautéing because it is high in monounsaturated fats. It’s also a good choice for making homemade salad dressings and marinades.
Stock a variety of vinegars
Balsamic, apple cider, and red wine vinegars are good options to add flavor. “Vinegar really awakens our tastebuds,” says Zawicki, who makes homemade salad dressing with vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard.
See seafood options
Pouches of tuna and salmon are great to have on hand to add protein to a meal, says Gordon, who likes to stuff avocado halves with tuna. Fresh fish, especially low-mercury varieties such as salmon and mackerel, are good lean proteins for your freezer or fridge.
Look for low-fat dairy products
Choose low-fat and low-sugar dairy items. “For yogurt, I would go with Greek yogurts, which tend to be a lot less sweet. Then you could mix it up with some fresh strawberries, and that can be lovely,” says oncologist Claudia Tellez, MD.
Ditch the sugar
If you need to sweeten a dish, choose honey or maple syrup instead of refined sugar. If you are undergoing cancer treatment, use pasteurized honey. Raw or unpasteurized honey could contain botulism spores, which could sicken a person with a fragile immune system, Gordon says.
Skip the sodium
Use fresh herbs and a variety of spices to season food without adding salt. Some spices, like turmeric and ginger, have anti-inflammatory properties. While that is a bonus, the main reason to use them is to flavor foods without sugar or salt, Gordon says.