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The holidays are bursting with color from ornaments to wrapped presents, but today we’re talking about the colors on your plate.

We hear a lot about how what we eat can influence our risk of developing certain cancers, but the foods we eat are also important post-diagnosis for improving patient outcomes. In fact, good nutrition should be a priority before, during  and after cancer treatment so the body has the energy and nutrients it needs to help repair, recover and heal from treatment. Caryn Huneke from Meals to Heal weighs in on what you should be putting on your plate this holiday season.

Caryn Huneke

Caryn Huneke, Dietetic Intern at Meals to Heal.

Eating Before Diagnosis

Colon cancer is a largely preventable disease with regular, early screening and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle and diet. Considerable research on lifestyle and dietary factors have linked obesity, lack of physical activity and diet, specifically diets high in alcohol, red and processed meats, refined grains and saturated fats, with an increased risk of developing colon cancer. In fact, some researchers have estimated that 70 percent of all colon cancers are preventable by moderate diet and lifestyle changes.

Eating After Diagnosis

But in the past few years, researchers have also explored whether these lifestyle and dietary factors play a role in the health of folks already diagnosed with colon cancer. As it turns out, a large prospective observational study found that dietary patterns among patients with treated stage III colon cancer were associated with recurrence and mortality.

Specifically, a greater intake of a Western dietary pattern, characterized by high consumption of red and processed meats, fats, refined grains and dessert, was significantly associated with colon cancer recurrence or death. However the prudent dietary pattern, categorized as a high intake of fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish, was not associated with these adverse outcomes. Additional studies have indicated that a higher BMI, little physical activity, a higher dietary glycemic load and greater total carbohydrate intake may be linked to colon cancer recurrence and mortality, but the evidence is still limited.

Meals to heal color arrows

Holiday Eating

So what does this mean for your holiday dinner? Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer, the consensus from this research leads to sound dietary recommendations that we’ve broken down by color.

You’ve probably heard it before: “Eat the rainbow.” Fruits and vegetables get their hue from phytonutrients (chemicals naturally found in plants), so greater color variety in your diet means you’ll be getting more diverse nutrients and health benefits from your food.

But remember, a range of color is just the first step. When cooking meals or serving yourself, keep in mind the recommendations for colon cancer to make the best colorful choices (red ≠ steak).

Similar to MyPlate, we put together a color-coded plate to make this a bit easier. Start with white as your fuel foundation: a lean protein like chicken, turkey or fish. Then add a spectrum of color with plant-based sides from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And for some colorful culinary inspiration, try these fun and yummy recipes:

  • Red: Cranberry sauce with pears and cardamom
  • Green: Roasted Brussels sprouts and root veggies
  • Orange: Honey-glazed carrots

Meals to heal color Graph

Caryn Huneke is a Dietetic Intern at  Meals to Heal. She is completing her dietetic internship and graduate degree in Nutrition Education at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.


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