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Prevention Through Nutrition: DPH employees visit urban garden, discuss cancer-fighting foods

December 13, 2013

Originally published May 13, 2013

Can the processed foods on your plate cause cancer or make you sick?

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), no single food or food combination can protect against cancer by itself. However, strong evidence shows a diet filled with a variety of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans helps lower the risk of many cancers.

DPH employees recently visited the Truly Living Well (TLW) Center for Natural Urban Agriculture in downtown Atlanta to enjoy a lecture and cooking demonstration by Atlanta chef Asata Reid, who discussed the importance of buying chemical-free fruits and vegetables and super foods for cancer prevention.

"Eating fresh, naturally grown food is one the most important things we can to do improve our health," said K. Rashid Nuri, TLW's chief executive officer. "TLW provides access to healthy produce which helps mitigate nutrition-related chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in urban communities."

DPH employees and other visitors enjoyed a meal featuring super foods like fruit salad with honeydew, cantaloupe, strawberries, sesame seeds and ginger reduction sauce, kale, turnips, carrots, brown and green lentils and water with mint leaves. Reid's passion for cancer prevention through nutrition started three years ago as she watched a loved one battle cancer and lose. She now educates others about healthy food choices, not just cooking.

"You have to make a difference between foods and edible substances. Food nurtures your body. These foods come straight from the ground to your stomach," Reid said. "Edible substances are processed foods that are made to last as long as possible without the nutrients. The need to preserve to have food last a long time isn't food."

Reid advised the group to increase their intake of green foods like kale, cucumber and parsley to reduce the amount of toxins and acid intake and increase antioxidants.

According to AICR, some of the recommended super foods that fight cancer are: acai berries, apples, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, carrots, cherries, chili peppers, citrus fruits (oranges/lemons) cranberries, dark leafy vegetables, flaxseed, garlic, grapes and grape juice, grapefruit, green tea, kale and other greens, legumes (dry beans, peas and lentils), mushrooms, nuts, onions, papayas, pomegranates, raspberries, soy, squash, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts, watermelon and other melons, and whole grains. Minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals (the chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants) demonstrate anti-cancer effects. 

"Food is medicine and it's about eating well every day," said Reid.

DPH Health Educator Pamela Noah has worked downtown for more than 10 years and is glad to have the option to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

"I get off the interstate right here all of the time, passed Grady for years and I never knew this garden was here," said Noah. "Now I will try to join a co-op, Farmer's Market or CSA [community supported agriculture] program on a regular basis to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into my diet."

Deborah Gedhardt brought her friend, Rebecca Rakoski, to TLW as a birthday gift. Both have children who require special diets.

"My son is ADHD and chemicals, preservatives and especially artificial dyes affect him in a bad way. I have gotten into the organic way with him for his needs," Gedhardt said.

Rakoski said the trip to TLW is a gift that keeps on giving.

"It is a gift of good health that I can pass on to my family and to myself," Rakoski said. "I have a daughter who was diagnosed six years ago with Type I diabetes. Diabetes is an epidemic in our society whether Type I or II. The fuel you put in your body makes a difference. I see this with my children who are not Type I diabetic. If you give them sugar, they want more sugar. If I feed them healthy foods, they can make good decisions when they go to a restaurant."

DPH awarded TLW a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant in 2011 to increase the production and distribution of wholesome food for the Atlanta community and to provide training and educational opportunities to local farmers, volunteers and students.

"The most rewarding part of what we do is having people come up to us and say that they are feeling better because they're eating really good food," said Nuri. "Access to good food should be a right for everyone, not a privilege for the few. We are committed to employing natural and sustainable production methods to deliver high quality food. Our methods improve the health of our neighbors and the environment in and around the Old Fourth Ward." 

E. Susanne Koch, DPH's worksite wellness coordinator, said this type of partnership is making a difference in the health of the community.

"We are what we eat. Most diseases are preventable and eating the right foods will prevent many diseases," said Koch.

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