With the recent news that nitrates have been linked to causing cancer (goodbye, cured meats and hot dogs!), you might wonder whether anything is safe to eat anymore. Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes, and certain foods can even help prevent cancer. But what are they? And once you've found them, how should you prepare them?
Not surprisingly, the most effective cancer-preventing foods are fruits and vegetables. Foods rich in antioxidants (such as berries) and beta carotene (such as carrots and sweet potatoes) have been proved to help prevent cancer. Doctors also recommend cruciferous vegetables -- such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale -- for fiber and their antioxidants.
Other foods that help out on the cancer-prevention front: tomatoes, garlic, avocados, figs, red wine, green and black teas, and flax. Even spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and rosemary are in on the fight.
Now that you've loaded up on fruits, veggies and other healthy stuff, what's next? Try adapting the dishes you regularly make to incorporate cancer-fighting foods. For example, if you usually eat oatmeal or cereal in the morning, toss in some flax and berries to make breakfast a super-healthy and filling meal.
For a quick side dish, kale can be sauteed with onions and garlic. It can also be easily added to soups and curries to give them a healthful boost.
Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are excellent roasted or steamed. But plain roasted vegetables can be boring. Dress them up with a sauce, but use it sparingly; too much and you might cancel out any health benefits you gain from eating your veggies! If you like spicy, here's a quick, delicious dressing that goes with almost any roasted vegetable:
CHILI MINT DRESSING
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, e.g., Sriracha
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped mint or Thai basil
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour over roasted vegetables, or serve on the side as a dipping sauce.
Carrots and sweet potatoes lend themselves to rich, hearty soups. Here's a recipe for a perfect rainy-day soup that includes two excellent sources of beta carotene:
CARROT SWEET POTATO SOUP
2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, depending on how thick you prefer soup to be
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and carrots, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, and cook for another minute or two. Then add broth and ginger. Salt to taste, and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to be pierced by a fork. Blend until smooth (immersion blenders are wonderful for jobs like this), but be careful, because it'll be very hot.
This soup gets better the next day, so make it in advance. You can also add a few squeezes of lemon or lime juice to brighten it up or add 1/2 cup of heavy cream to make it richer.
Eating healthily doesn't mean you have to skip dessert; it just means you need to make the right choices. Both dark chocolate and figs have antioxidants, which are known to help prevent cancer. Figs are excellent roasted or baked in a tart. A few squares of dark chocolate and a glass of red wine are a perfect end to a healthy meal.
Eating healthily can be a great way to explore new dishes and cuisines. Don't lament what you can't have; think of all the new and delicious ways you can keep yourself clean and cancer-free!
Catherine McNulty is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu.