Can kitchen fight cancer? Dementia? Death?

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Put simply, yes.

What you eat can benefit your health beyond your waistline. Think of reducing your risk of cancer, helping you deal with depression and anxiety, or even improving your brain power.

“What we eat not only nourishes and strengthens our bodies, but can also help us feel better,” explains Dr. Lori Walsh, Medical Director of the Center for Health and Integrative Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital. “For example, a diet high in tomatoes can help us reduce inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

As part of her practice, Walsh embraces culinary medicine, an area that combines nutrition and the culinary arts to prepare quick, inexpensive meals that taste good and benefit your health and vitality.

“Culinary medicine is powered by data,” Walsh continues. “And more importantly, it’s a health prescription that anyone can understand and own.” It empowers you to take control of your health by becoming more aware of how you fuel your body and family over the long term.”

In general, Walsh recommends a plant-based diet that incorporates the traditional flavors and cooking methods of the Mediterranean region. Remember to eat mostly whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, with some fish, seafood, dairy and poultry in moderation.

This diet reduces the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, diabetes and all-cause mortality. For example, olive oil, the main source of added fat in a Mediterranean diet, has been shown to have antidepressant properties while lowering cholesterol.

While some see dieting as a chore, Walsh is quick to add that thinking differently about our diet doesn’t have to be boring, tiring, or hard.

“Gardens produce year-round, and eating seasonally is a wonderful option,” encourages Walsh. “It may mean a little more planning or creativity in the kitchen, but too often we fall into an eating pattern. Don’t be afraid to try a new combination or incorporate the available products into a favorite recipe. Gather your ingredients and get started.”

Even small changes can have big benefits. Walnuts have been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of depression and other illnesses, so swap them out for your pesto recipe. If you’re craving something sweet, Walsh suggests sticking to naturally occurring sugars in fruit, which are also packed with fiber.

“Slow, gradual changes are permanent changes,” she insists. “By gradually increasing your intake of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, you can lay a strong foundation for your new lifestyle. Nothing is off limits, but we know that some foods are better choices than others.”

Are you trying to watch your weight? Take a free online quiz here to learn more about your healthy weight range.

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