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The Good Guy vs. Bad Guys in a Diet That Reduces the Risk of Disease : Cancer: It's still not clear how, or if, the body uses vitamins and fiber to prevent disease. Some studies suggest that the real heroes are as-yet unidentified trace elements in the high-fiber foods.


Each time the refrigerator door is opened, the fight begins. It's a tug of war: Will you reach for nutrient-empty foods to quell your hunger, or for the foods that will help your body ward off disease?

"You really can't eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without decreasing your fats and calories and increasing your fiber," says Dr. Daniel Nixon, vice president for professional education at the American Cancer Society's Atlanta headquarters. "I think there's a great deal of hope that we can decrease our cancer rates by decreasing our caloric intake," he says.

"Some groups have suggested that we should eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day. Those are just broad guidelines," he says. "More primitive societies eat more fiber, and epidemiologists tell us that because they eat a more fiber-rich diet, they have less cancer of the colon, for example."

How the body uses fiber and vitamins to prevent cancer isn't clear, he says. In fact, it isn't certain that the fiber or the vitamins themselves are the agents of prevention; some studies suggest that the good guys are as-yet unidentified trace elements in the high-fiber foods. There may be a helpful compound "riding along with the beta-carotene" in some vegetables, he says; then again, the beta-carotene itself may be the good guy.

What researchers say is nearly certain is that the "bad guys" are fats. "Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been gorging ourselves on animal fat." Overindulgence in fat has a direct effect on health and leads to obesity. The American Cancer Society recommends replacing high-fat foods in the diet with low-calorie, fresh vegetables and fruits.

That does not mean the diet should be meatless. The society recommends a shift to leaner meats, poultry and fish and away from fried or greasy foods, and moderation in the consumption of fats.

Nixon adds an important note: The American Cancer Society guidelines are intended for adults, not babies and children. Youngsters have different dietary needs and parents should consult a pediatrician for advice about meeting a child's nutritional requirements.

The society says "select your rations rationally": strawberries, peaches, carrots, spinach and other Vitamin A-rich foods; oranges, tomatoes, peppers, grapefruit and other Vitamin C-rich foods; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage; lean meats, chicken and fish; low-fat dairy products; high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables.

Turning these ingredients into delicious, nutritious meals is not hard, says Chef Michael Baskette, director of faculty at the Baltimore International Culinary College.

"It's our job to help guide the professionals going into the industry so that when the consumer says, 'I like this entree, but I'm cutting back on fat,' the chef can adapt the recipe," he says. "There will always be those restaurants that have rich foods, but a whole new philosophy is emerging in the industry."

"If you take away the butter and fats, you may think you are giving up flavor, but you won't," he says. "Butter and fat coat your taste; it's hiding the true flavor of the meat and vegetables."

Baskette recommends treating butter and flavored oils as seasonings, not bases or essentials for a dish. He uses fresh herbs and light marinades to enhance the flavors of lean meats. Extra ginger and fresh garlic, and a mere droplet or two of sesame oil, for example, will boost the taste of stir-fried vegetables and chicken, he says. Also, "we don't always think of the root vegetables, such as turnips, which can be added to stews to add flavor."

The following recipe is from the Baltimore International Culinary College, along with two others from "The American Cancer Society Cookbook" by Anne Lindsay in consultation with Diane J. Fink, M.D. (William Morrow, 1988: $17.95).


1 cup fresh broccoli florets

3 tablespoons peanut oil, about

1 pound flank or sirloin steak, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

1/2 small onion, cut in 1/4-inch slices

2 small green peppers, cut in 1/4-inch slices

2 ounces unsalted peanuts, optional

1 cup diced carrot

Salt, pepper

Cooked brown rice

Steam broccoli until tender-crisp. Heat oil (as needed) in large skillet or wok over high heat. Add beef and stir-fry quickly until lightly browned. Add onion, green peppers and carrot. Stir-fry until onion is translucent. Add broccoli. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over hot cooked brown rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: To add more flavor, stir-fry beef with minced garlic and/or ginger and add few drops sesame oil at end.

Instructions are provided for cooking this dish in microwave or conventional oven. Use fresh fillets of red snapper, perch, sole, cod, flounder, haddock or monkfish. Frozen fish can be substituted. This dish is an excellent provider of vitamins A and C, niacin and phosphorus.


1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes

1 pound fish fillets


Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

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