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  • Breast cancer and the 'perfect' diet

  • October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
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  • October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
    Throughout the country, events designed to raise our consciousness, along with funds for research, treatment and education, abound. In the process, you're likely to see a lot of women and men in pink, as it's the rallying hue of a committed populace determined to the fight against this horrible disease that steals the lives of almost 40,000 women every year.
    In conjunction with the national theme, a regional effort in the Willamette Valley, funded by the Corvallis Clinic Foundation, was launched in 2006 and called Puttin' on the Pink. One component of the weeklong event is "education day." Its goal always has been to raise awareness of breast cancer, provide women with tools to identify the disease at an early stage and encourage healthy choices in their daily lives.
    The overall theme for this year's education day was "prevention through healthy eating," so the program included a nationally renowned, culinary-nutrition specialist who could speak to the message in a knowledgeable yet approachable style. Keynote speaker Catharine H. Powers of Culinary Nutrition Associates, based in Medina, Ohio, is that.
    Powers has been described as a visionary thinker, innovative communicator and consultant to food manufacturers, distributors and food-service operators. She spent nearly 15 years of her professional life at one of the world's most prominent culinary-education facilities, Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she was instrumental in developing the Institute's cutting-edge nutrition program.
    On a shelf in my office, I have one of the books she helped create for CIA, "Techniques of Healthy Cooking." It's a book designed to arm chefs and food professionals with knowledge and philosophy so they can provide healthy — but delicious and satisfying — meals in their restaurants, schools and care facilities.
    A while back, I asked Powers to share a few specifics on how she planned to narrow down the event's broad concept during her presentation.
    "There are many risk factors for developing breast cancer that we cannot control," said Powers. Age, genetics and family history are examples.
    "But there are three things that we can control, she added: what we eat, how much alcohol we drink and how we move.
    "Being overweight or obese is clearly associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer," said Powers. So it tracks that "a primary goal for breast-cancer prevention should be to achieve a healthy weight."
    Easier said than done, you say, and Powers would agree, which is why she encourages people to consider the challenge of a weight-reducing way of eating as a one-step-at-a-time process. Visualize Transformers, she ventured, the children's toy that starts out as a rather mundane vehicle but, with little manipulations — twists and turns within various segments of the car or truck — ultimately transforms into an action-hero robot.
    Some of the healthy steps that Powers suggests include: reducing portion sizes at mealtime, adding leafy, green vegetables, switching to whole grains, consuming more whole (fresh) fruits, adding more beans and plenty of cruciferous vegetables. Another simple step would be to increase the amount of water you drink and limit consumption of alcohol (there's a 10-percent to 12-percent higher risk of breast cancer associated with each alcoholic drink per day). She also suggests limiting consumption of processed meats and red meats. And whenever possible, reduce high-calorie foods and concentrate on nutrient-dense foods.
    Of course, even if we're committed to achieving a healthier diet, we're all faced with situations and temptations that undermine our good intentions. So I asked Powers how well-meaning, mindful-eating people can maintain a "perfect" diet.
    First of all, said Powers, "healthful foods must taste good, be convenient and fit into your budget." Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for failure.
    So a few of her tips for producing delicious (but healthy) meals include:
    • Learn a new cooking technique or skill to enrich your meals.
    • Roast your vegetables; it caramelizes the natural sugars and concentrates the flavor.
    • Explore the offerings of herbs and spices as a way to bring a healthy boost of flavor to your cooking.
    To address the "healthy-foods-must-be-convenient" factor, a few of Powers' suggestions include:
    • Keep a container of dark, leafy greens (like spinach) in the refrigerator, so you can boost the flavor and nutrient content of such basic dishes as scrambled eggs, soups, rice, beans and potatoes.
    • Keep a container in your refrigerator of fresh vegetables that are ready to grab and eat: washed, trimmed and cut into conveniently sized pieces.
    • For an easy and healthy dip or sandwich spread, mash white beans, finely minced, fresh garlic and freshly chopped rosemary into a rough puree.
    To keep healthy-eating efforts in line with your budget, said Powers, consider:
    • Frozen fruits and vegetables (often a better price with little waste)
    • Adding affordable protein to meals with budget-friendly canned beans.
    • Filling reusable water bottles and storing in the refrigerator for a quick grab-and-go.
    Additionally, said Powers, keep moving! Get off the couch (or away from your desk) and move. Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities per week.
    Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or read her blog at www.janrd.com.
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