Building a Balanced Meal
A few staple recipes, along with our tips on putting healthy meals together, will give you the tools to create a long-lasting, nutritious lifestyle in line with EWG’s Cancer Defense Diet.
Healthy meal tips
The easiest place to begin is visualizing your plate and making sure half of the food on it is a combination of fruits and vegetables.
Variety is key to making the most of the wide range of nutrients and phytochemicals plants offer.
For vegetables, focus on dark greens like broccoli, collards, kale, romaine lettuce or spinach first, as they contain important, yet often-neglected nutrients like fiber, potassium, vitamin A, carotenoids and other phytochemicals. Cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower deserve regular appearances at the dining table due to their high phytochemical content. Red and orange vegetables like squashes, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers are important sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, carotenoids and other phytochemicals. Choose starchy vegetables like potatoes or corn last, once you’ve already put more vibrantly colored vegetables on your plate.
Eating plants as a source of protein can have benefits, too. Lentils, beans, peas, nuts and seeds are great climate-smart choices for cancer defense. Milk, yogurt, eggs and seafood are good protein options as well. Limit processed meats and red meat – both of which have been linked to colorectal cancer – and eat less cheese.
Complete your meal with a whole grain like brown rice, quinoa, farro or even wheat berries – which contain vitamin E, fiber, carotenoids and other beneficial phytochemicals1 – instead of refined grains2 like white bread, rolls, bagels, muffins, pasta or rice. And avoid processed grain-based foods that are high in sugar and salt, like cookies, cakes, pastries and pizza.3
Finally, make time. Lock in at least 10 minutes a week to plan meals. You’ll save money by reducing food waste and have tastier meals. You can even turn cooking into an activity to do with your children, getting them excited about good food and teaching them money-saving life skills in the process.
In the store
Shopping for food raises a number of questions: Does it matter if I buy fresh, frozen or canned? What about pesticides? Should I buy organic?
Fresh, frozen or canned?
Sometimes it’s ok to buy frozen instead of fresh food. Garden fresh produce is best, but isn’t always available. Out of season produce can be expensive and lacking in flavor because it is shipped before it ripens to prevent bruising. Fresh fruits and vegetables have shorter shelf lives and lose nutrients at a faster rate than their frozen counterparts, which are generally picked at peak ripeness. Frozen seafood and meats can also be good options for prolonging shelf life if handled properly.
When it comes to canned and packaged goods, you’ll want to watch out for high amounts of sodium, and possible exposures to BPA and PFCs in microwave popcorn bags, wrappers for greasy foods and nonstick cookware. Limiting the use of plastic containers when heating and storing acidic foods is also a good idea. EWG’s Food Scores app can help you figure out better options in the store.
Organic or conventional?
Your first priority should be eating a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether they are organically or conventionally grown. But if you are concerned about the possible health effects4 of pesticide exposures, organic is your best option.
Check out EWG's recipes for cheap, healthy home cooking.
1 Devanand L. Luthria et al., Bioactive Phytochemicals in Wheat: Extraction, Analysis, Processing, and Functional Properties. Journal of Functional Foods, 2015;18, part B: 910-925.
2 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-11.asp#figure-d1-18
3 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf
4 Mei Chen et al., Residential Exposure to Pesticide During Childhood and Childhood Cancers: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatrics, 2015;136(4):719-729.