Welcome, and prepare to eat!
We are so happy that you have decided to join this September’s healthy eating challenge in honor of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Soon you’ll be receiving a copy of The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer, a guide to overall healthy lifestyle choices to help prevent cancer and any number of other chronic diseases.
This month’s slate of health foods focuses on not necessarily the world’s healthiest foods, but on 30 nourishing foods that open up a conversation about what we, as scientists, know and don’t know about the complex set of compounds that make up the foods we eat… and how they may or may not be related to some of the chronic diseases that many of you struggle to manage. Whether you are a man with prostate cancer, a caregiver, an amateur chef, or just someone who needs inspiration to eat healthy, this challenge is for you.
Remember: the idea of food as medicine is not new – but it’s also tricky. When you actually unpack the science of food, you have to look at things like association vs. causation, human vs. animal studies, and epidemiological report vs. clinical trial. Here’s what we can guarantee you this month: nothing we’ve suggested you eat is bad for you (unless you have an allergy or contraindication), and just the mere fiber content is enough to favor better health for most people. But beyond that, we’ll also spend some time unpacking the latest science of food: what we know, what we don’t know, and where we think we know but could use more data.
Leading up to the challenge, we’ll provide you with all the resources you need to get ready. Once we get close to September, you’ll receive a weekly email in time to shop for the foods we suggest each week, as well as more food science about each.
We invite you to spend some time with us, being food scientists (learning about what’s good for you and why), as well as nutrition chemists – learning how to cook and prepare the foods that will serve your body well, for years to come.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Acorn squash
- Brown rice
- Red bell pepper
- Pinto beans
- Pumpkin seeds
To review the rules of the challenge, go to www.pcf.org/eat .
This first week is just 4 short days, but the foods are a powerhouse!
Here’s your grocery list for the week of 9/1-9/4, and some information about why each of these foods made it to our top 30 list.
- Broccoli – Kicking off the challenge again this year is…. (drumroll)… Broccoli! (prostate cancer’s least favorite superfood). These little green trees – part of a class of foods you may know as cruciferous vegetables – contain high amounts of glucosinolates. Research suggests that these natural plant compounds can have cancer-fighting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Check out our blog on broccoli and prostate cancer here.
- Extra virgin olive oil – EVOO is the only food-derivative we have included in our challenge. While we usually advocate for the whole plant, olive oil is a special case. Extra virgin, first cold press, unfiltered (meaning microscopic bits of olive remain) olive oil seems to have substantial anti-inflammatory anti-cancer properties, enough for us to make an exception to our no-processed-food rule. Read more here.
- Blackberries – Blackberries are a superfood. These sweet fruits are low in calories but have a dense nutrient profile, making them the perfect snack. Blackberries are full of fiber, vitamins C and K, and flavonoids (antioxidants). If you’re on warfarin and need to keep your vitamin K intake constant, check with your doctor.
- Sauerkraut – “Sour cabbage” is, as the name suggests, simply cabbage—fermented (made through the activity of microbes) with water and salt. It’s got all of the health benefits of that cruciferous vegetable in a special, savory form. While more research is needed on the specific benefits of fermented veggies, one small study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome found that eating sauerkraut improved their symptoms. Learn more about fermented foods.
– Team PCF
The Challenge Continues!
We’re heading into week 2 of the challenge and we have another group of powerhouse foods plus a special challenge for next Friday (9/10)!
If you were with us last year, you may remember that the challenge was all about what you CAN eat. This is a great way to look at it — there’s so many good things to eat, why fall into the trap of exclusionary dieting… which leads to cheating… which leads to abandoning… which gets you right back where you started. So why did we change it up this year? Researchers are starting to learn a lot about how too much sugar can affect health, so it’s critical to consider reducing it. For the next 3 weeks, Sugar-Free Fridays will provide some fun ways to reduce the sugar in your diet.
Here’s your grocery list for the week of 9/5-9/11, and some information about why each of these foods made it to our top 30 list.
- Collard greens — Collard greens are a superfood! Like broccoli, collards are a cruciferous vegetable. These leafy greens are high in anti-cancer antioxidants, vitamins (including A, C, and K), calcium, and iron. If you’re taking warfarin and need to keep your vitamin K intake constant, watch the volume of collard greens you eat. Read more on leafy greens.
- Edamame — Edamame (whole soybeans) are a nearly perfect protein. They provide a full suite of amino acids (protein building-blocks) as well as fiber. Soy’s benefits are complex due to the different nutritional components (e.g., isoflavones, protein) and types (e.g., whole vs. processed, fermented vs not). See the scoop on soy.
- Jicama — If you haven’t tried jicama before, you’re in for a treat. Crunchy, fresh, with a just a hint of sweetness, jicama is the perfect vehicle for a healthy dip. While not brightly-colored, jicama makes the cut due to its high fiber content. Eating a variety of different high-fiber plant foods helps maintain a diverse gut microbiome, supporting your immune system, metabolism, and other body processes.
- Apple — This easy-to-find fruit is surprisingly good for you (but no guarantees on keeping the doctor away). They contain pectin, a form of soluble fiber, that feeds the “good bacteria” in your gut so they work better for you. The quercetin in apples may promote cancer cell death.
- Almonds — Technically, they’re seeds of the almond fruit — but you can still call them nuts! In any case, they are packed with nutrients. While high in fat, most of it is unsaturated fatty acids, which aid in heart health. They’ll also supply you with antioxidants (in the skin), protein, fiber, trace minerals, and are an especially good source of vitamin E (which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting effects).
- Plantain — Featured in traditional African and South American cooking, plantains are a great source of a particular kind of fiber called “resistant starch.” This carbohydrate passes through the small intestine and acts as a prebiotic to feed your microbiome and help with digestion. They also contain soluble fiber, which has also been shown to lower blood glucose and cholesterol. Plantains are often served deep-fried, but we suggest a simple oven-baked alternative. Note that plantains aren’t on the master periodic table, so why are they here? To drive home that there may be as many as 300,000 species of edible plants out there just waiting to try. Variety really is the spice of life.
- Popcorn — Pair this fun, healthy snack with a movie. An unprocessed whole grain, it’s very low in fat and calories and high in fiber. Those little hulls that catch in your teeth? They’ve got beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin for your eyes, as well as polyphenols. Avoid salty, oily pre-packaged popcorn and learn to make your own in our blog.
– Team PCF
Week 3 Grocery List: Eat It To Beat It Challenge
We’re heading into week 3 of the challenge and we have another group of powerhouse foods plus a special challenge for next Friday (9/17)!
For Sugar-Free Friday, September 17, we challenge you: Take your favorite recipe and substitute fruit (e.g, muffins sweetened with banana instead of sugar), or eliminate the sugar entirely (e.g., a meat rub instead of a marinade).
Here’s your grocery list for the week of 9/12-9/18, and some information about why each of these foods made it to our top 30 list.
- Avocado — You might be taken aback when you see the high fat content, but most of it comes from monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to improve the blood lipid profile and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. Fat also helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients found in avocados (and the veggies you might eat with avocado…..like tomatoes!).
- Onion — Onions are versatile and healthy! Onions are not only full of nutrients like vitamin C, but you’ll also get a dose of antioxidants like flavonols. As an Allium vegetable, onions are high in beneficial organosulfur compounds, which have the potential to fend off inflammation, oxidative stress, microbes, and even cancer, as well as improve cardiovascular health.
- Garlic — Onion’s Allium cousin, garlic has had a historical tie to medicinal and anti-inflammatory benefits for thousands of years. Garlic is another rich source of those organosulfur compounds.
- Tomato — Tomatoes are a superfood! These versatile fruits are a fantastic source of vitamins A and C as well as the antioxidant lycopene, part of the class of carotenoid antioxidants that can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Evidence suggests that lycopene is associated with lower risk of advanced or fatal prostate cancer. But superfoods can’t do it all; the marinara on a Meat Lover’s pizza won’t cancel out the inflammatory and carcinogenic effects of processed meat.
- Lentils — Lentils, classified as legumes, are a phenomenal source of plant-based protein as well as fiber, protein, iron, folate, and other minerals. The fiber in lentils can be a source of prebiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome. Research has linked legume consumption to decreased risk of heart disease and improved blood sugar control. If your system isn’t used to legumes, start slowly until you see how you tolerate all that fiber. Learn more about lentils here, and try a delicious new recipe here.
- Beets — With their vibrant range of colors (red-purple and golden-yellow) and earthy flavor, beets can steal the show in any dish. Those striking colors come from betalains, naturally-occurring pigments with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (Note: Some people may get a reminder of eating beets several hours later, when they produce red-colored urine or stool.) Don’t throw out those nutrient-rich green tops—though due their high vitamin K content, consume with caution if you’re taking warfarin.
- Quinoa — It’s been on the food scene for years as a high-protein, gluten-free replacement for rice or pasta. Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, that you can easily simmer on the stove, like cooking rice. With more fiber and a lot more protein than brown rice, it’s definitely worth a try.
– Team PCF
The Challenge Continues!
We’re heading into week 4 of the challenge and we have another group of powerhouse foods plus a special challenge for next Friday (9/24)!
For Sugar-Free Friday, September 24, we challenge you: Dessert at every meal! But it has to be made of fruit and vegetables only, no added sugar (share your recipes, photos, inventions… and hardships!).
Here’s your grocery list for the week of 9/19-9/25, and some information about why each of these foods made it to our top 30 list.
- Brussels sprouts — This superfood looks like a mini cabbage, its cruciferous cousin. Sulforaphane in crucifers may fight cancer by combatting inflammation and oxidation (damage) of your cells and DNA. Try them roasted with a little olive oil and seasoning, and you’ll forget about the boiled, overcooked version you may have been forced to eat as a kid.
- Acorn squash — Acorn squash, or the pepper squash, is an excellent source of fiber – make sure to eat the skin for the benefits of insoluble fiber: helps you feel full, prevents constipation, and regulates blood sugar after a meal. The vibrant yellow-orange color comes from carotenoids, which have beneficial antioxidant properties, and in large population studies are linked to lower risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Squashes also have a natural sweetness, and can be combined with a little (little!) brown sugar and cinnamon to provide an unusual and satisfying dessert option!
- Cauliflower — In the same cruciferous vegetable family as broccoli, cauliflower contains high amounts of isothiocyanates, which, among other benefits, help your cells excrete carcinogens. Cauliflower is an exception to the principle of brightly-colored vegetables – it still packs a nutritional punch. Mix it up by trying the purple, orange, or green varieties.
- Brown rice — Carbohydrates, in the form of whole grains, are not the enemy! Brown rice is a versatile grain, containing fiber, vitamins and minerals. The brown comes from the bran and germ layers of the grain, which has most of the good stuff and has been removed from white rice. Brown rice is also a winner for anyone who follows a gluten-free or low-gluten eating plan. There are traces of arsenic in brown rice, more so than in white rice, because it concentrates in the bran and germ. Evidence from large population studies does not support a link between brown rice intake and cancer. Consider how brown rice fits into your overall diet, and vary your grains!
- Shiitake — Shiitake mushrooms add a savory umami note to soups, stir-fries, and (whole!) grain dishes. Research suggests that compound called lentinan in shiitakes may stimulate the immune system against cancer, but this remains unproven. A 2019 study of Japanese men found that more frequent mushroom eaters had a lower risk of prostate cancer. Eat them for the flavor, fiber, vitamins, and minerals!
- Tempeh — Tempeh’s got a couple of things going for it: it’s soy and it’s fermented. A great source of plant-based protein, it has a meatier flavor, more solid texture, and more fiber than tofu. Check out our blogs on soy and fermented foods for more info.
- Red bell pepper — Full of vitamins and antioxidants, red peppers can be a bright, nutritious addition to so many recipes: salads, stir-fry, stuffed with whole grains and spices, or used as a vehicle for a healthy dip. They’re milder in flavor than the green variety, but can be expensive, so feel free to substitute green peppers instead.
– Team PCF
The Last Week of the Challenge!
We’re heading into week 5 of the challenge and we have 5 more foods for you.
Here’s your grocery list for the week of 9/26-9/30, and some information about why each of these foods made it to our top 30 list.
- Banana — We don’t include many sweets in our list, but bananas are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without spiking your blood sugar or insulin levels as much as a candy bar or even a handful of raisins. How does this work? A food’s Glycemic Index (GI) is an indicator of how it quickly it’s absorbed and causes your blood sugar to rise; bananas are considered to have a relatively low GI. They’re also a good source of potassium and fiber.
- Cabbage — Cabbage is a superfood! Cheap and versatile, cabbage is full of nutritional benefits and easy to find in your supermarket. As a cruciferous vegetable, it’s full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, specifically isothiocyanates. Cabbage has also been associated with positive effects on blood sugar levels and digestive processes (thanks to its high fiber) and antibacterial activity.
- Pinto beans — Pinto beans are legumes and rich in fiber, iron, and flavonoids. Several large studies following men over time found that men who ate more non-soy legumes had a lower risk of prostate cancer. To recap the benefits of fiber: it will help fill you up, feed your gut bacteria, and is associated with lower LDL cholesterol. It’s ideal (and cheap!) to cook dried beans at home, but if you’re buying canned, look for the no-salt-added label.
- Oats — We consider oats to be a super grain. While steel-cut oats are less processed than the familiar rolled oats found readily at the market, the nutritional value is similar. Steel-cut are digested more slowly, sending glucose more gradually into the bloodstream. The main fiber in oats is beta-glucan, which is associated with improved cholesterol and prevention of blood sugar and insulin spikes after a meal, among other benefits. Oats also contain natural antioxidants. Avoid the flavored instant oatmeal packets that are high in sugar.
- Pumpkin seeds — It’s not too early to start honing your pumpkin-carving skills in advance of Halloween. Don’t waste the seeds! Roast them at home with a little oil and seasoning and enjoy this heart-healthy source of protein and antioxidants.
– Team PCF