Question: Do you have any suggestions on healthy foods to eat during the holiday season?

A: The holidays are in full swing and festive food is everywhere. Food is an essential part of any celebration, and the holidays bring with them a smorgasbord of options. While these foods are delicious to eat, some have the added bonus of containing cancer-preventing nutrients. We often think of holiday food as rich and fattening and perhaps not very good for us. But you can find ways to eat healthy by adding more “cancer-blocking” foods into festivities.

Many foods are sources of antioxidants, phytonutrients, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber and other nutrients known to help prevent cancer. Pumpkin can be a holiday staple for many families, and for some, it may be one of the tastiest ways to enhance the body’s own natural cancer fighting ability. Pumpkins are packed with nutrients called carotenoids, which have been linked to the prevention of colon, prostate, breast and lung cancer. Other examples are sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut and acorn squash.

Apples are another food packed with cancer preventing properties, thanks to the nutrient quercitin which protects DNA in the body’s cells from damage that could lead to the development of cancer. To get the most protection against cancer from apples, eat them with the skin on and not combined with sugar and fats, like in a pie.

Snack on popcorn! Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain and that wild or brown rice are also whole grains? Use them for soups, stuffing or as a side dish.

A few suggestions:

Make a dip out of smoked salmon; serve shrimp along with raw vegetables; and don’t forget the cocktail sauce and salsa (tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, vitamin C and potassium); serve cranberry relish or sauce as a condiment or side dish; and use cranberry juice in the holiday party punch.

The overall key to finding cancer-fighting foods is to look for a rainbow of colors. Produce like pomegranates, tomatoes, eggplant, grapes, cherries, and turnips that have brighter and richer pigment, also have higher level of nutrients. Eating whole foods typically provides greater health benefits than taking a dietary supplement.

Also consider adding dried fruits and nuts to salads or making dips made from legumes, such as hummus or black bean dip, which are good sources of fiber and other phytonutrients. Make a snack mix out of dried cranberries, almonds and dark chocolate bits. All nuts are high in antioxidants, protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. When baking, use dark chocolate and walnuts. Dark chocolate, my favorite, has more antioxidants (known as flavonols or phenols) than milk chocolate. And don’t think you have to avoid sweets. Contrary to popular belief, sugar doesn’t feed cancer, but it can contribute to unwanted and unnecessary calories, so you may want to practice moderation. One of the easiest and most effective ways to promote good health and to help protect against cancer is with your diet. The American Cancer Society estimates that one third of all American cancer deaths may be diet-related.

I hope these suggestions got your imaginations running. Remember, Marian Cancer Care provides, at no charge, dietary counseling for cancer patients and services to our Central Coast community. For more information, please call 219-4673.

“Your Cancer Answers” column is produced by Marian Cancer Care Services. Email questions to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

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