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Posts Tagged ‘ Mediterranean diet ’

Fighting breast cancer one colorful vegetable at a time: a tribute to my grandmother

Below is my blog post “Fighting breast cancer one colorful vegetable at a time: a tribute to my grandmother.”

You  can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

I first got interested in nutrition many years ago. While hardly as popular a field back then as it is today, my love of nutrition, the field which ultimately became my profession, was due, to a large extent, on my close bond with my beloved grandmother.

Grandma Ceil, as she was known to our family, was a fighter and a powerhouse. She was diagnosed with breast cancer (which no one ever talked about) around 1970, while in her 50s. An avid cook and baker, grandma loved to eat. And her love of food (not always the right ones!) showed on her waistline.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, while undergoing treatment, my grandmother became fascinated with nutrition and its relationship to health. So much so that she began practicing and preaching healthy eating to us.

Grandma Ceil lived with cancer for over 20 years and throughout her lifetime with us (she lived a full life till the age of 80), she was vibrant, upbeat, and never missed a family outing. She also made a point at talking to anyone who would listen (that meant me) about the latest nutrition information she had just received from the numerous health organizations she was contacting to find out more about diet and health.

Over the years, my grandmother’s preaching had a profound influence on me. So much so that I’ve spent a good part of my career educating and counseling individuals and families on healthy eating and disease prevention. Below I share some simple guidelines we can follow to help protect us from breast cancer.

First, I must preface by saying that preventing breast cancer, or any other cancer for that matter, is not an exact science. One can follow a super healthy eating and lifestyle program and still get breast cancer. (In fact one out of eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. And not all have poor health habits.) We now know, however, that the following lifestyle factors can help prevent breast cancer throughout one’s life—and also improve health outcomes for breast cancer survivors. (There are currently more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the US!) So it’s not too late to start adopting them now.

1. Load up on colorful fruits and vegetables.

Lots of evidence exists that eating colorful vegetables—think red peppers, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, cauliflower, blueberries, tomatoes—is very helpful in reducing the risk for breast cancer. Colorful vegetables are rich in antioxidants including vitamin C, beta carotene, lycopene, and flavonoids and contain protective properties to fight cancer. These vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories which can help keep your waistline in check, also important. The different colors often contain different nutrients so it’s best to eat the rainbow, so to speak. And don’t be afraid to vary it up and try a new fruit or veggie. You just may like it.

2. Watch your weight—and your waist.

Maintaining a healthy weight is super important in protecting against breast cancer. Where you keep your excess weight also matters. Excess fat around the mid-line (think apple-shaped) is associated with increased estrogen levels—which could set the stage for breast cells to mutate and ultimately become cancerous. So be sure to keep your weight—and your waist— in check with a healthy diet and exercise program.

3. Adopt the Mediterranean way.

Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine and The International Journal of Cancer found that adopting a Mediterranean diet—rich in whole grains, olive oil, nuts and legumes, fruits and vegetables—-may prevent breast cancer. It’s no surprise as the Mediterranean diet is a healthy lifestyle diet not only rich in colorful produce and healthy grains but is also low in meat, fried foods, and processed foods. Because managing weight is also an important factor to help fight breast cancer, before pouring the olive oil onto your salad and adding nuts as a snack, be sure to nix the cheese, croutons, butter, and fried foods. And, do watch your olive oil portion as the calories add up quickly (1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories).

4. Get moving today.

All types of exercise reduces a woman’s risk for breast cancer so choose one you enjoy and are likely to stick with. Aim for about 30 minutes a day at least four to five days a week. No excuses. Moderately intense activity including brisk walking (not window shopping!) and yoga counts as does more vigorous exercise including running and cycling. What matters most is that you keep moving.

For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.

5. Don’t over pour…

…I am referring to alcohol, not water. While you may have heard that a glass of wine is protective against heart disease (although I don’t know anyone who got heart disease from a deficiency of alcohol!)) , that same drink (any kind of alcohol) may increase your breast cancer risk. And research shows that moderate drinking —just one drink a day for women—increases the risk.

So if you enjoy a drink, choose it wisely, on occasion, and don’t over pour. And even though wine goblets have increased in size, your drink should still be 5 oz.

6. Cook more.

Research shows that people who cook at home eat healthier and also manage their weight better than those who eat out (or order in) most meals. Home cooked meals are associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, These are great for fighting breast cancer.

Finally, when going food shopping, try keeping the canned foods (canned soups, canned mushrooms) and foods and drinks which come in plastic containers (water bottles, juice containers) on the shelf. Stanford research confirmed a link between canned food and exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical known as Bisphenol A, or BPA. While it may be difficult to avoid all canned foods and plastic products, try to use as little as possible. And, if you do buy such products, choose brands that are BPA free.

While we can’t change our age, gender, and genetics, it is estimated that healthy lifestyle practices such as I discuss above can help to reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk by about one-third. That would translate to 100,000 US women every year.

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Lessons from the Mediterranean diet: 10 foods to eat

Below is my latest blog post  for Huffington Post: ” What we can learn from the Mediterranean Diet: 10 healthy foods to eat.” You can also read it here.

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that has been thought to reduce the incidence of heart disease. Now a large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on thousands of participants in Spain confirms the health benefits of this eating plan. The study found that those following the Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent reduction in the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. The study subjects were people ages 55-80 who had a high risk for cardiovascular disease.

As reported in the New York Times, “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals.” The study was stopped early because the results were so clear-cut that they found it not ethical to continue.

The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan that is high in fruits and vegetables, and includes whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, and legumes. It is low in foods that are high in saturated fats — such as meat and butter — and is also low in processed foods. What I love about the Mediterranean diet is that it is not touted as a weight-loss diet, but rather as a healthy lifestyle plan and a way life.

I previously wrote about the benefits of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and rich in whole grains.

So how can we Americans eat more like the Greeks? We can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, include fish instead of meat, use olive oil instead of butter, and snack on nuts instead of chips.

My clients have been asking me which foods they can include in their diet. Here are some winners.

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat. Diets high in olive oil have been associated with heart health. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E, polyphenols, and beta-carotene, which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Drizzle olive oil on salads and steamed veggies.

Tuna is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with a decrease in the risk of heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends including at least two servings of fish per week, in particular fatty fish. Tuna is affordable, convenient, and versatile. Throw canned tuna on a salad, make a sandwich, or toss it into whole wheat pasta, to get a dose of omega-3s.

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables as it is chock-full of the antioxidant vitamins A and C. It is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Sautee broccoli in olive oil and enjoy it as a side dish.

Raspberries contain the antioxidant quercetin — which contains anti-inflammatory benefits — and the phenolic compound ellagic acid, and can help fight heart disease. And even more good news: One cup contains only 105 calories and eight grams of fiber. Throw some berries into your morning yogurt for added color, taste, and a healthy dose of antioxidants and fiber.

Walnuts not only taste great, but also provide a heart-healthy addition to your diet. Rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, and antioxidants such as selenium, walnuts also provide protein, fiber, magnesium and phosphorus to the diet. Include a handful of walnuts as a snack or toss a few tablespoons into your breakfast oatmeal.

Chickpeas are a great option for plant protein and fiber. They also contain magnesium, manganese, iron, and folate. Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, is delicious with crackers or veggies as an afternoon snack.

Brown rice contains fiber, B-vitamins, and a variety of minerals. It contains nearly three times the fiber of white rice. A half-cup serving of cooked brown rice contains nearly a half-day’s worth of the mineral manganese, which works with various enzymes facilitating body processes. Brown rice makes a healthy grain to include with a meal of grilled fish and vegetables.

Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, K, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may prevent against certain diseases. For good news, it is available year-round, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. A fresh spinach salad drizzled with olive oil and a handful of nuts tastes great.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and may benefit heart health. Consuming blueberries may keep your blood pressure in check. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, which may reduce the risk of heart disease in women. Snack on these tasty berries or throw a handful into your cereal.

Lentils contain soluble fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates and also offers the added benefit of being a significant source of iron. Consider beginning your lunch or dinner with a hot lentil soup.

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