Healthy diet can help prevent diseases

Eating a healthy diet is important in all stages of life.

It can play a key role in prevention, treatment and remaining healthy after dealing with many illnesses, including breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you have probably noticed all kinds of pink products being sold to raise money for breast cancer research.

There is a vast amount of information about breast cancer already known, but we still are a long way from knowing everything. Despite what many websites might tell you, there is no single food or diet that has been proven to prevent breast cancer. What we do know is that a healthy diet, one full of fresh fruits and vegetables and limited amounts of sugar, can aid in the prevention of many ailments and diseases. In addition, maintaining a healthy body weight might play a role in reducing the risk of diseases, including certain cancers.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain more than just calories, vitamins and minerals. They also contain compounds called phytonutrients. These phytonutrients help our bodies function and can prevent disease, though there is still research being done to understand how and why this works.

Bright colors in fruits and vegetables usually indicate higher amounts of phytonutrients. Two examples of this are lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in carrots. To ensure that you get a variety of phytonutrients, it is recommended that you choose different colors of fruits and vegetables frequently. For most adults, the USDA recommends eating about 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. This can seem like a large amount, but it can be done. If you aim to eat at least one fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and most snacks, you should get in all your daily servings. Some groups recommend even higher intake of fruits and vegetables, if possible, for the best protection from diseases like breast cancer.

Omega-3 fats

Another nutrient that is being explored is omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are usually promoted for heart health, but they are good for many parts of the body. They are found in foods like salmon, flax seeds and walnuts. A great way to increase the intake of omega-3 fats is to replace butter or lard, for cooking, with an oil made from walnuts or flax seeds. Also, replacing fatty beef, pork or chicken for salmon or other cold water fish during some meals will help increase your intake of omega-3 fats.

Limit alcohol 

Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. While red wine may provide some heart healthy benefits, it is known that drinking too much of any kind of alcoholic beverage can increase risk of diseases, including many types of cancer. The USDA recommends for women to drink no more than one drink per day for a healthful diet; but avoiding alcohol all together might lower your risk for breast cancer even more. Remember, one drink is equal to only about 1.5 oz of liquor, 5 oz of wine, or 12 oz of beer. Many drinks served at bars and restaurants provide more than this amount.

Finally, it is unlikely that we can eat a perfect diet and remove all risk of diseases like cancer. Even with a perfect diet, what we are exposed to in the environment and our family history play a role in our health. The best we can do is aim to eat healthy foods most of the time.

Try out this great fall recipe that is loaded with vegetable goodness.

Black bean and pumpkin chili

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 medium yellow pepper, chopped

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

• 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

• 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

• 2 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken

• 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

• 2 teaspoons chili powder (more or less for desired level of heat)

• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• Cubed avocado and thinly sliced green onions, optional

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper; cook and stir until tender. Add garlic; cook one minute longer.

Transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker; stir in remaining ingredients except avocado and green onions. Cook, covered, on low four to five hours. If desired, top with avocado and green onions.

Nutrition fact for 1 cup: 192 calories, 5 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates and 16 grams protein.

Adapted from: Taste of Home’s Black Bean ‘n’ Pumpkin Chili recipe 

Kelli Ioan is Nutritionist III with Alamance County WIC. For questions or comments, call 336-570-6474.

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