March is colorectal cancer month. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S., but you may be able to decrease your risk by including more fiber in your diet.
Fiber is only contained in plant foods other than oils and sugar, and white flour contains little.
You need at least 20 grams of fiber a day. The more calories you consume, the more fiber you need. Men and growing teens may need 35 grams per day.
You don't need to worry about getting too much fiber as long as you drink plenty of water with it and gradually increase the amount you consume over a two- to three-week period.
How much fiber is contained in different foods? Per 1/2 cup serving, beans contain 5 to 8 grams, chopped vegetables 2 to 3 grams, fruits about 2 grams and whole grains 1 to 2 grams.
Tips to include more fiber in your diet:
-- Eat whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juices.
-- Eat whole grain breads, pastas and crackers.
-- Eat a whole grain breakfast cereal and add some fruit on top.
-- Support Washington farmers, who grow the most chickpeas in the nation, by snacking on raw veggies dipped in hummus.
-- Substitute beans, peas or lentils for meat at least twice each week.
-- Try some of the many whole grains and beans available locally at ethnic markets, health food stores and supermarkets.
Besides low fiber intake, other colorectal cancer risk factors include being older than 50, having colorectal polyps, which are pre-cancerous growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum that can be found during a colonoscopy and removed; and a family history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and smoking.
Dietary studies indicate that high consumption of red meat, processed meats or alcohol are risk factors. Fiber supplements do not appear to reduce your risk.
Colorectal cancer is not the only bowel condition affected by diet. Diverticulitis, inflammation of pouches in the intestine causing pain and cramping, occurs in a third of all people older than 45 in North America and two-thirds of those older than 85. Constipation is the most common digestive tract complaint in the U.S., and hemorrhoids are common. All these problems can be largely controlled by consuming more fiber in your diet.
Here's a dish with Indian flavors for a high fiber dinner. Lentils and other beans are also low in fat and high in protein and other nutrients, and protect against heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
They are inexpensive, and including them in your diet is not only healthy for your family, but also for our region; Washington wheat farmers grow them as a rotation crop.
-- The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance's monthly food column discusses how to reduce the risk or severity of health problems by eating better. More information at www.bfcha.org.
Start to finish: 60 minutes, not all active.
1 cup uncooked brown rice or other whole grain, prepared per package instructions
1 cup red or brown lentils, rinsed thoroughly
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon asafetida (optional Indian seasoning)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 large chopped onion
Place the lentils, water, turmeric and cayenne pepper in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer 20 minutes, uncovered, skimming off foam occasionally.
Once you get the lentils started, heat a large pot over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the cumin, mustard seeds and asafetida to the dry pot and cook, stirring, about a minute or until seeds pop, averting your face from the popping seeds. Immediately add the tomatoes, stir quickly, reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger, and onion.
Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the lentils and cook another 10 minutes, or until the lentils are quite soft.
Serve over rice or other whole grain with a salad and additional vegetables of your choice. Garnish with chopped cilantro, sliced banana, chutney, fresh or dried mint or parsley and serve with hot sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 364 calories, 2.3 grams fat (0.3 grams saturated), 0 grams cholesterol, 69 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, and 15 grams protein.