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Health Beat: Cancer-fighting holiday foods

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 08 2014 01:14:28 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 08 2014 04:36:12 PM CST

The holidays are about family, fun and food, but most of us get carried away when it comes to enjoying a holiday meal.

LOS ANGELES -

The holidays are about family, fun and food, but most of us get carried away when it comes to enjoying a holiday meal. In fact, the average American stuffs down as much as 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day.

What if you could make your holiday meals healthier, without sacrificing your favorite foods?

When it comes to the holidays, most Americans aren’t thinking about healthy foods. Dr. David Heber, however, said maybe they should.

"For cancer, in particular, nutrition probably accounts for about 30 percent of all cancers," said Heber, endocrinologist, UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

Many of those holiday favorites can be cancer-fighters.

"The holidays are a wonderful time to get healthy," Heber said.

First, the orange foods, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins, contain beta carotene, which may prevent skin cancer.

Dietitian Susan Bowerman said less is more when preparing these classics. Just add a little balsamic vinegar and roast your sweet potatoes.

"When you roast sweet potatoes, it brings out that natural sweetness. They caramelize," said Bowerman, certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD), UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.

Next up, red foods. Tomatoes have lycopene, which may prevent prostate and breast cancer. Don't, however, store them in the fridge.

"When tomatoes sit out at room temperature, they actually make more lycopene," Bowerman said.

Broccoli contains a compound that boosts the body's protective enzymes and flushes out cancer-causing chemicals. Garlic has allyl sulfides, which help kill cancer cells naturally.

"You have to crush the garlic first before you cook it because if you cook it first, you kill the ability of this substance to be helpful," Heber explained.

Also, don’t forget the turkey.

"Turkey breast is actually lower in fat than chicken breast," Heber said.

So, this holiday, load up on what's good to lower your risk of cancer.

Experts said you should try to fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. On the remaining third, choose a lean animal or plant protein.

Also, men should aim for meals with no more than 500 calories. For women, it’s no more than 400 calories.

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