March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so we are taking this opportunity to highlight how supporting our local food system can support your health and even aid in the prevention of cancer!
Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of death in Idaho and Washington, and colon cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths? Over one-third of all cancer cases are directly associated with three lifestyle factors: diet, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight. The good news is, every meal you eat has the potential to help reduce your risk! A healthy, cancer free lifestyle starts with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Healthy eating habits form early in life, which is why it is so important to focus on our children-giving them exposure to and the experience of eating a wide-variety of fruits and vegetables, every day. The most surefire way to get kids to eat these foods, is to make it interesting and fun, by involving them in cooking and even growing their own food. This is what we are working hard to promote through our summer Power of Produce Club.
The best fruits and vegetables, with the highest nutrient content, are local, seasonal foods. Foods, imported from other states and countries, are often harvested early and travel long distances, sitting in distribution sites before making it to your local store or table. The food is old, lacking flavor, and the nutrient value diminished. Local, seasonal foods have a much shorter time span from farm to your table; therefore, they are packed with nutrients, flavorful, and safer to eat.
A perfect example of a cancer prevention food, grown in our region and seasonally available in winter and early spring are brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, all of which are known to contain cancer-fighting properties; however, brussels sprouts has been shown to contain greater amounts of nutrients and cancer prevention ingredients than their family counterparts: kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Brussels sprouts are shown to stop the growth of cancer cells and are linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, among others. To fully experience the cancer prevention health benefits, eat a minimum of ¾ cup of cruciferous vegetables, daily.
Culturally, we turn our noses up at brussels sprouts, but the tide has turned, and brussels sprouts have become quite popular-seen on the menus of casual to the poshest of restaurants. The important thing to remember is to avoid overcooking, as they will lose nutritional value and the taste and smell will become unpleasant. Research shows that fat soluble vitamins found in foods, such as brussels sprouts, may be better absorbed when consumed with fat-containing foods or oils like extra virgin olive oil.
Try the quick, easy, and delicious recipe below. Your kids can help prepare the dish and have fun eating these cute, colorful vegetables!
Extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Pecans, almonds, or walnuts
Optional: gorgonzola cheese crumbles, balsamic vinegar, bacon
- Fill the bottom of a pan or steamer with 2 inches of water.
- Cut Brussels Sprouts in half or quarter. Let them sit for 5 minutes before steaming.
- Cover with a lid, and steam for 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with oil and toss brussels sprouts. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Next, add dried cranberries and your choice of either pecans, almonds, or walnuts. To give it an extra kick, consider adding gorgonzola cheese crumbles, bacon, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction.
Erin Whitehead, MPH, is a Health Education Specialist for the Panhandle Health District in North Idaho.