The bounty of summer is a boon to health


I've been wallowing in my first-of-the-season Eastern Shore cantaloupe. This basketball-sized beauty glowed golden as a summer sunrise, musky and fragrant as Mother Earth herself.

The succulent orange flesh melted sweetly in my mouth. Who would believe that cancer prevention could taste this good!

Cancer is high on the list of most-feared diseases, and the American Cancer Society tells us that one-third of all cancers are diet-related. Less than 10 percent of Americans eat daily two fruits and three vegetables as recommended by the National Cancer Institute for cancer prevention.

The strongest diet-cancer connection, according to Environmental Nutrition newsletter, is in colon cancer. Fully 95 percent are nutrition related.

Colon cancer is slow-growing, so eating well over a long period of time can reduce your risks significantly. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with peak-of-the-season produce that makes healthy eating pure joy.

Here is a summary of EN's links of colon cancer and diet, followed by my own quick and easy suggestions for preventive measures that are pure indulgence.

* On average, eating a low-fat diet can cut colon cancer risk in half,

TC * Diets high in saturated fat, especially from red meat, increase colon cancer risk 2 1/2 times over diets low in saturated fat. Mono-unsaturated fats, from nuts, seeds, olive oil and canola oil appear to have the least effect,

* A high-fiber diet can reduce colon cancer risk by an average of 40 percent. The bad effects of a high-fat diet are greatest for people eating low-fiber diets,

* One study showed high-calorie diets increased colon cancer risk.

* Numerous studies show that eating lots of fruits and vegetables lowers colon cancer risk. Antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta carotene, along with recently discovered phytochemicals found naturally in fruits, vegetables and grains, appear to work together to provide cancer protection.

* People eating diets high in folic acid, a B vitamin found naturally in green leafy vegetables, are 35 percent less likely to develop pre-cancerous colon growths.

* In one study, men consuming 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium have a decrease of 75 percent in the occurrence of colon cancer. Older women eating high-calcium diets had a 30 percent decrease in colon cancer risk.

* Men drinking two or more servings of alcohol/day who ate few fruits and vegetables and high fat diets tripled their risk of colon cancer. People who drank alcohol but ate a healthy diet were at no higher risk for colon cancer than non-drinkers.

Now for some solutions.

Naturally fat-free local green beans are plentiful at grocery stores and roadside stands. Just wash, snap off the stem end, then steam with sliced onions, garlic, fresh basil and chopped fresh tomato.

Local corn is bursting with picked-this-morning flavor powerful enough to satisfy even without butter. Taste the real thing,

Locally grown cucumbers sporting unwaxed skins flood farmers' markets and roadside stands. Just scrub, slice, and eat. Or cut into chunks and combine with tomato wedges, black olives, oregano and a little olive oil for an easy summer salad.

Satisfy the munchies with a color-happy plateful of crisp baby carrots mixed with chunks of locally grown green and yellow summer squash and crunchy radishes. Dip in fat-free ranch or Catalina dressing.

Locally grown greens have just hit the market. Steam spinach in a few drops of water until just barely tender (about 5 minutes), or serve raw in salads. Kale takes a little longer (about 15 minutes) to become tender, light and fluffy. Season with coarsely ground black pepper and fresh lemon thyme.

One cup of non-fat yogurt contains more calcium than one cup of skim milk. Try new coconut cream or tangerine chiffon flavors mixed with blueberries, honeydew melon, and Georgia peaches for an exotic taste treat.

Fresh summer fruits and veggies are nature's way of pleasing your palate while protecting you from colon cancer. Be sure to take the time to enjoy.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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