Monday Medical: Power of fruits and vegetables |

Monday Medical: Power of fruits and vegetables

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

Eat your fruits and vegetables. Most of us have heard that hundreds of times. But, as science advances, we can better understand why those foods — along with a healthy weight and a good diet — are so important to health.

For instance, we now know why cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, are beneficial in fighting breast cancer: They have a specific chemical that makes products of estrogen breakdown — which stimulate cancer growth — less potent.

"You can hardly pick up a magazine or newspaper or medical journal without seeing how some element of fruits and vegetables is protective to your health," said Dr. Charlie Petersen, an internal medicine physician in Steamboat Springs. "Some of the ways they're protective have been worked out, but for the majority, we're just scratching the surface."

What's clear is that a good diet is critical to good health. For a good diet, Petersen encourages three things: Maintain a healthy weight, decrease animal fats and increase fruits and vegetables.

Watch your weight

Even more important than what you do or don't eat is maintaining a healthy weight.

"The primary issue, not to be lost, is that maintaining a normal weight in adulthood is the most important thing," Petersen said. "Just about every disease, whether it is cancer, heart disease, stroke and even accidents such as falls, is linked to being overweight or obese."

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In the case of breast cancer, extra fat can change hormones more readily into estrogen, stimulating breast cancer cells.

"Fat is not just inert," Petersen said. "It's metabolically active."

Petersen cautions that simply being overweight doesn't mean someone will get cancer, just as maintaining a healthy weight doesn't mean someone is immune to the disease.

"We're all delivered certain genetic cards, and you want to play them the best you can to reduce risk," Petersen said. "One key is to maintain a normal body weight."

Lighten up on animal fats

"In general, a diet higher in animal fat and red meat increases the risk of cancer, and a diet high in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk," Petersen said.

For instance, men who eat six red meat meals per week have a much higher risk of prostate cancer than men who don't eat animal fats.

That doesn't mean you can never have meat, whole milk or butter. But, decreasing consumption of those foods is beneficial.

Load up on fruits and vegetables

Want to make a quick, positive change to your diet? Add more fruits and vegetables.

"Lots of people have done a good job reducing bad things in their diet, but they're slow to get more of the good stuff," Petersen said.

An average, American eats one or two fruits or vegetables a day, but those who eat the recommended seven to 10 servings have a much lower risk of getting cancer and heart disease.

"There's something very potent or magical about a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which are protective for all sorts of things," Petersen said.

It doesn't have to be hard: A serving is one cup of uncooked vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables, so choosing salad for lunch can knock off several servings with one meal.

Simply knowing there are ways to help slow or prevent cancer through diet can be empowering. Take that power into your own hands by filling your plate with fruits and vegetables every day.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

If you go

What: Cancer and Real Food

When: Noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 17

Where: Yampa Valley Medical Center Conference Rooms, 1024 Central Park Drive