Tag Archive for: Healthy Eating

Health Benefits of Antioxidants

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Benefits of Antioxidants from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the deal with antioxidants? Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body against diseases related to damage to tissues and cells from highly reactive substances. Watch now.

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Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit the oxidation of other substances by stabilizing and neutralizing free radicals. Low levels of free radicals in the body are normal and can be beneficial. Free radicals are a natural byproduct of metabolic reactions in the body and play a vital role in our immune system function. However, too many free radicals can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can destroy cell membranes, proteins, RNA, and DNA, and thereby contribute to chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Antioxidants can play an important role in mitigating these potential chronic diseases. Here are a few antioxidants and their health promoting benefits: Vitamin C found in citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables protects DNA, RNA, and cell membranes. Vitamin E found in sunflower seeds and almonds protects cellular membranes. Carotenoids, a phytochemical found in pumpkin and carrots act as a free radical scavenger. Vitamin A found in leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, in the precursor form of beta carotene, protects cellular membranes and reduces inflammation. Selenium is an essential trace mineral and powerful antioxidant that helps to regenerate other antioxidants, including vitamin C. 

It is apparent that the benefits of antioxidants work in combination with each other along with phytochemicals and micronutrients in food to protect the body against oxidative stress from free radicals. The benefits of eating antioxidant-rich foods come from the entire package of nutrients in whole foods, a combination that can’t be replicated in a supplement. Therefore, eating a diet rich in antioxidant-containing foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will provide you with the health promoting benefits that antioxidants offer.

Thanks for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. Please remember to ask your healthcare team what may be right for you.

Benefits of Phytochemicals

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Benefits of Phytochemicals from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Phytochemicals are substances found in plants that are capable of providing health-promoting properties, such as antioxidants. Watch now.

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Phytochemicals, also referred to as phytonutrients, are substances found in plants in small amounts that are not essential nutrients but may have health-promoting properties. Although the health benefits of phytochemicals are still under scientific investigation, there are some prominent functions and therefore potential benefits worth mentioning. One well- known property of phytochemicals is their potential to act as and support the function of antioxidants. They can also mimic hormones, alter absorption of cholesterol, inhibit inflammatory responses, and block the actions of certain enzymes. 

Here are some potential health benefits that may result from a few well-known phytochemicals: Carotenoids found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, as well as in dark green leafy vegetables may possess strong cancer-fighting properties. Indoles found in cruciferous vegetables like bok choy and broccoli may inhibit the development of cancer-causing hormones and prevent tumor growth. Phytoestrogens found in berries, soybeans, and garlic may lower the risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and menopausal symptoms. Saponins found in legumes like kidney beans and lentils may decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks, and lower the blood glucose response. Flavonoids found in various fruits, vegetables, chocolates, nuts, and seeds may benefit the immune system and prevent cancer cell growth.

It is the mixture and variety of phytochemicals in food acting in conjunction with each other and with other micronutrients that are linked to their health promoting benefits. Therefore, supplementation of phytochemicals in isolation may limit their health promoting properties. This is yet another reason to include whole plant-based foods in your diet.

Thanks for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. Please remember to ask your healthcare team what may be right for you.

Healthy Garlic Mushroom Quinoa

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Healthy Garlic Mushroom Quinoa from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan


  1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Add garlic, mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper, and cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in cooked quinoa until well combined
  4. Garnish with parmesan and serve

History of Mushrooms

Sometimes categorized as a vegetable, mushrooms are a member of the fungus family of organisms that also includes truffles and the microorganisms of molds and yeasts. For centuries during the early times of mushroom consumption, generally people of the Eastern portion of the world ate mushrooms, while the people of the Western portion of the world did not. And mushrooms have not only been eaten for their flavor but have also been used for their hallucinogenic effects in spiritual and religious ceremonies by the Vikings, Siberian shamans, and in ancient Mexico. The native people of Mexico used them to generate hallucinations that they deemed as visions of the future. The people of France are known in history for introducing mushrooms into Western cuisine. As for the U.S., Americans began serving mushrooms in cuisine in the late 1800s.

Medical Properties of Mushrooms

In addition to their use in Eastern cuisine, mushrooms have been part of Eastern medicine for thousands of years. The reishi mushroom has gained popularity in recent years for its medicinal properties, which may include aiding in weight loss, improving sleep, lessening depression and anxiety, fighting cancer, boosting the immune system, improving focus, and even promoting healing. Studies on chaga mushrooms show that they may help in lowering cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation in the body, and fighting against oxidative that causes skin aging. Shiitake mushrooms are known for their ability to lower cholesterol, and phytonutrients help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries and aid in maintaining healthy circulation and blood pressure in the body. Lion’s mane mushrooms are known for their ability to boost production of myelin and the bioprotein nerve growth factor that are vital to brain function, and consumption has been shown to alleviate irritability and anxiety and to improve concentration, mental clarity, cognition, and memory. Mushrooms also supply potassium, protein, and polysaccharides, which boost immune function in the body.

Surprising Facts About Mushrooms

Due to their meaty consistency, vegetarians use portobello mushrooms as a replacement for meat. Recent research has utilized mushrooms in varied and surprising ways. Mighty mushrooms are used to turn waste from crops into bioethanol and to clean up toxic waste and oil spills. Materials made from mushrooms have been used as replacements for leather, foam, polystyrene, and building materials. A mushroom has even been discovered that can break down plastics in weeks instead of years.

See all recipes from the Cook & Learn series here.

Nourishing Your Body and Mind: Nutritional Advice For Cancer Survivors

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There are few things more confusing to those of us who have had a cancer diagnosis than dietary advice. From conflicting recommendations from well-meaning friends to advice in magazine articles and online blogs, we can easily become overwhelmed with mixed messages.

To bring more clarity to bear on the topic I spoke with registered dietitian Cathy Leman, who is also a survivor of ER/PR+ breast cancer. In this interview Cathy separates dietary fact from fiction and offers some evidence-based tips for eating a nutritionally balanced diet which nourishes body and mind.

Q: One of the most confusing things, particularly for patients who have hormonally driven cancer, is conflicting advice about consuming phytoestrogen foods (such as soy products). What is the latest scientific evidence on this often perplexing subject?

A: This is a topic where it’s critical to know the facts! There are four main classes of phytoestrogens, of which isoflavones, the phytoestrogen found in soy, is one. Within these classes there are analogs (relating to) and derivatives (derived from). It’s common to consider the term phytoestrogen as “one thing”, as well as view the impact of eating phytoestrogen foods to be the same for everyone.

Phytoestrogen means “plant estrogen” (phyto = plant). Plant estrogens are similar to, but not the same thing as the human estrogen we produce in our bodies, called “endogenous estrogen” (endogenous = produced from within). Research on phytoestrogens and hormone-receptor positive breast cancer is ongoing, yet current data generally supports the safety of eating phytoestrogen foods for the general population, women with benign breast disorders, those at risk, and even in survivors of breast cancer.

Scientific literature reports both benefits and risks, yet the unfavorable effects have been mainly suggested based on data from in vitro, animal or epidemiological studies. Clinical studies often report the absence of unfavorable effects.

Another consideration is that the metabolism of phytoestrogens is highly variable among individuals. Differences in gut microflora, use of antimicrobials, intestinal transit time and genetic variation all play a role.

Take home message: further studies are needed, we don’t yet have conclusive results, there are no recommendations to exclude phytoestrogen foods from the diet.

Q: We hear a lot of talk about adding nutritional supplements to our diet. Are these a good idea?

A: Food first! That’s my professional philosophy, and the science supports. There is room for supplementation, yet not just for the sake of supplementing. Diet is the star, supplements, as their name suggests, take the supportive role.

Q: Do you have any tips for cancer patients who are currently in treatment and may lack motivation to cook healthy meals because of taste changes, nausea or fatigue?

A: My expertise is in working with post-treatment survivors, so I always suggest cancer patients seek the guidance of an oncology dietitian for targeted advice to manage these side effects.

Q: Cancer doesn’t just affect our bodies, our emotional and mental health can also suffer too. What’s the role of diet in improving our overall well-being?

A: When we eat well, it helps us feel we’re doing what we can to be well, and it’s empowering to know you’re taking charge of your health. Also, when one improves their diet, other healthy habits tend to follow, such as getting regular physical activity, prioritizing sleep and managing stress. Also, our bodies and minds require certain nutrients for repair and to aid in transport and storage of the building blocks necessary for overall good health.

Q: For those of us diagnosed with breast cancer we run a real risk of treatment induced osteoporosis (loss of bone density). What advice can you offer us to minimize the impact of treatment on our bone health?

A: There’s much to consider with regard to osteoporosis risk. For example, dietary pattern, exercise type and frequency, calcium absorption rates, minerals and other compounds that impact absorption, and genetic risk factors (that’s not an exhaustive list!). I recommend working with a dietitian to asses individual risk and develop a plan to address any areas of deficiency.

Q: Finally Cathy, for readers who may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of overhauling our diet, what’s the one thing we can do right away that can start to move us in the right direction?

A: Abandon the idea of overhauling your diet. Instead, consider making small, incremental, sustainable habit changes over time.

About Cathy Leman

Cathy Leman helps survivors of hormone-positive breast cancer rebuild trust with food and their body, end food fear, confusion, and overwhelm, eat without stress and guilt, and gain peace of mind and confidence about nutrition, exercise and well-being, so they can rebuild their health after treatment.

Cathy is a registered dietitian, nutrition therapist and coach, personal trainer, speaker, and a survivor of hormone-positive breast cancer. Learn more Cathy and REBUILD, her private coaching program here: www.cathyleman.com

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