• Cancer

    Cut Disease Risk by Adding Color to Your Diet

fruits and vegetables

Do you feel overwhelmed by diet recommendations that constantly change based on the latest research? If you have a cancer diagnosis or a desire to lower your risk for cancer and want to follow a healthy diet, there is good news — some advice has not changed. A diet to reduce cancer risk has a recurrent message: choose a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

Several organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), urge us to eat more fruits and vegetables. The ACS guidelines suggest we should eat five or more servings per day. The AICR has set goals of 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1 1/2 cups of fruit per day. A serving, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is one medium whole fruit or 1/2 cup of fruit, 1/2 cup of cooked or chopped vegetables and 1 cup raw, leafy greens.

Kay Yost, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian, says when choosing fruits and vegetables, people should try to include:

  • Colorful produce, such as dark, green vegetables, like spinach and kale
  • Deep yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and sweet potatoes
  • Red, blue, purple and white fruits and vegetables, such as berries and cauliflower

Fruits and vegetables contribute needed antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals) that protect cells in the body from cancer-causing substances and actions. Eating an assortment of different colored fruits and vegetables has the benefit of fighting cancer and other diseases.

"Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned without added salt or sugar. When given an option, choose whole fruit or a vegetable over juice for the added benefit of fiber," adds Yost. "Take advantage of pre-chopped or frozen vegetables to make it easy to boost your intake. Add fruits and vegetables to your snacks in addition to your meals. They also can help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight — another benefit of reducing cancer risk."

To get you started on your journey to good health, try the AICR plate method for planning your meals:

  • Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains
  • Add one-third or less of lean protein, such as poultry or fish

Here are two quick and healthy ideas from The Mayo Clinic Diet book:

Sautéed vegetables

Sauté cherry tomatoes, asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, onion and other vegetables. Toss with whole-wheat pasta and a splash of olive oil. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Quick soup

Bring one quart reduced-sodium chicken broth to a boil. Cook any amount of fresh or leftover vegetables (carrots, onions, green beans, mushrooms, rutabagas, tomatoes or zucchini) until tender. Serve with whole-wheat crackers or toast.