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Fit Food From Many Cultures

Focused on Health - April 2010

By Rakhee Sharma and Adelina Espat

Living in a country where cultures blend, our taste buds seem to follow suit. We’ve selected some popular cultural dishes and uncovered the cancer-fighting ingredients found in each.

Get ready to say “Olé!” Your tongue will jump for joy. Your body will follow suit.

“Cultural dishes are becoming a more popular part of our diet as minority populations in our country continue to grow,” says Lovell A. Jones, Ph.D., director of the Center for Research and Minority Health at M. D. Anderson and a lead organizer of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week in April.

“National Minority Cancer Awareness Week is a chance to promote healthier lifestyles among minority groups and celebratecollard greens healthy traditions,” Jones says.  

One way to promote better health is through diet.  Learn about the health benefits of the cultural dishes below, and get low-fat recipes that are sure to improve your cooking skills.

African American “Comfort Food” That’s Guilt-Free

Typical types of Southern food, including cornbread, fried chicken and biscuits, are meant to soothe the soul. Most people don’t think of Southern “comfort food” as healthy food. But this doesn’t have to be the case! If you do it right, you can balance down-home taste with health.

Collard greens and mustard greens are a type of “comfort food” common in African American dining. The problem is they are typically made with lard or bacon fat.

On their own, these dark leafy vegetables contain carotenoids, which stop cancer cells from growing in the breast, skin, lung and stomach, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Try this recipe for “Southern Style" Collard Greens, and learn what ingredients you can use to enhance flavor without the added lard and bacon fat.

Indian Spices to Prevent Cancercurry chicken

Indian food is spicy, rich and delicious. Its unique flavors can transport you to a distant land without leaving your dining table. Did you know some of its ingredients can help prevent cancer, too?

Garlic is an ingredient almost no Indian dish can do without. The benefits?  Studies show that eating garlic may have the ability to slow or stop the growth of tumors in the prostate, bladder, colon and stomach, says the AICR.  

Another popular Indian staple is turmeric, the main spice in curry powder. Turmeric is full of curcumin. Studies show that curcumin may lower a person’s risks of cancer, including colorectal, breast, melanoma and prostate cancers.

Try this Curried Chicken recipe. It’s a healthy Indian dish perfect for an exotic night in.

Asian Vegetables Made with Flareveggie stir fry

Who says vegetables are boring? Asian food uses lots of vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, to excite and entice the taste buds. Their bright, bold colors also are easy on the eyes.  

Vickie Piper, M. D. Anderson’s wellness dietician, has one key recommendation for everyone: Eat more vegetables!

“People tend to forget that obesity is a risk factor for cancer, and the food choices we make are often the common culprit,” Piper says. “Make vegetables the main course of each meal.”

Dishes such as this Asian Vegetable Stir-Fry recipe will give you a quick vegetable fix and satisfy your craving for an enticing meal.

Hispanic Beans: A Quick and Healthy Choiceblack beans

Menu items at Latin restaurants, such as those covered in “queso,” have a bad reputation when it comes to health. But don’t be fooled. Traditional Latin food actually has a wide variety of healthy dishes if you know how to make the right choices (and ditch the heavy cheese).

Beans, for example, are popular in Latin cuisine. Black, red and pinto beans, as well as lentils and peas, contain substances that protect our cells from cancer, says the AICR. Include them in your meal as a side dish or substitute them for meat as your entrée.

Try this Black Bean recipe for an easy, healthy meal that will please any tummy. 

Do you have a favorite healthy cultural dish? Share it on our Focused on Health Facebook page. We’d love to know!

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center