Food & Wine

Help lower cancer risk by eating healthy

Try a dinner of your favorite salad with this recipe for Red Lentil Chili.
Try a dinner of your favorite salad with this recipe for Red Lentil Chili. Courtesy Philippa Sonnichsen

Our choices play a role in whether we get cancer.

“When people move from a country with a low incidence of cancer to one with high incidence, their offspring acquire the rate of the higher incidence country within a generation or two. So that suggests that it’s the environment and lifestyle within the new country that determines the majority of cancer risk,” according to David Hunter, professor in cancer prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Americans have a higher incidence of cancer, and cancer was responsible for 31.2 percent of deaths in Benton and Franklin counties in 2013. But research shows that we can lower our risk by eating healthfully.

For example, meat consumption is tied to colorectal cancer risk. In 2007, researchers compared the diets of black Americans and blacks in South Africa, where their risk of colorectal cancer was about 50 times lower. The primary difference in the diets between the two groups was that eating meat was rare in the African group. In 2015, findings from the Seventh-day Adventist 2 study found that vegetarians who ate fish at least monthly had a much lower risk of colorectal cancer than those who ate meat. According to the Benton-Franklin Trends website, colorectal cancer accounted for 9.3 percent of cancers diagnosed locally in 2010-12.

Japanese women have less than half the rate of breast cancer compared with American women. This could be because of saturated fat consumption. A study by European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) showed that women who ate higher levels of saturated fats had double the risk of breast cancer compared with those eating the least.

Our lifestyles may even be related to cancer outcomes. Harvard School of Public Health researchers followed men with nonmetastatic prostate cancer for five years. In 2015, they found that men who ate a diet of red and processed meats, high-fat dairy foods and refined grains had a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer death and overall mortality compared with those eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes and whole grains.

Another reason why our cancer rates are higher is because of obesity. The American Institute for Cancer Research found a strong link between excess body fat and the risk of cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, endometrium, kidney, gallbladder, ovary, prostate and postmenopausal breast. The cancer institute recommends filling at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans. Choose some meals with legumes as your protein source to cut down on saturated fat and calories.

Try a dinner of your favorite salad with this recipe for Red Lentil Chili, printed with permission from Chef AJ of, and featuring potatoes and lentils from our region’s farmers.

The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance’s monthly food column discusses how to reduce the risk or severity of health problems by eating better. Find more information at

Red Lentil Chili

Start to finished: 60 minutes. Servings: 8.

1 pound red lentils (about 2 1/4 cup rinsed well)

1 large onion, quartered

2 15-ounce cans tomatoes, roasted

6 ounce tomato paste

2 red peppers, seeded and quartered, or 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained

3 out dates, pitted (about 6 Medjool or 12 Deglet Noor)

8 cloves garlic

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

11/2 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

11/2 tablespoon chili powder

11/2 tablespoon dried oreganoa

4 pounds potatoes, any variety, scrubbed and cut into 2 inch chunks

Place lentils in 8 quart or larger pot and cover with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until lentils are soft. In the meantime, place onion, tomatoes, tomato paste, red peppers, dates and garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Also boil, microwave or steam potatoes until soft. When lentils are cooked, add tomato mixture to the pot along with parsley flakes, chili powder and oregano. Cook another 10-20 minutes.

To serve, place about 1/2 pound of potatoes in a bowl and mash with a fork. Cover with about 2 cups of chili. Garnish with chopped green onion or fresh or dried oregano, if desired. Refrigerate or freeze leftover chili.

Nutrition facts per serving: 514 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g cholesterol, 197 mg sodium, 1839 mg potassium, 107 g carbohydrates, 24 g fiber, 20 g sugars, 21 g protein, 44 percent vitamin A, 237 percent vitamin C, 11 percent Calcium, 40 percent iron.