To recognize National Cancer Prevention Month (February) and National Nutrition Month (March), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) recently offered some online educational programming for the community about the connection between diet and cancer.
National Cancer Prevention Month (February): Healthy Diet, Lower Cancer Risk
On February 23, 2022, MSK experts joined the Abyssinian Baptist Church for an online discussion called “Lowering Your Cancer Risk With a Healthy Diet.” The event covered healthy eating habits and the connection between obesity and cancer. Panelists provided facts about fad diets and resources for accessing nutritious food in New York City.
The panel of MSK experts included Neil M. Iyengar, a medical oncologist; Karla Giboyeaux, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the MSK Ralph Lauren Center; and Raúl Hernández, a community outreach and clinical research coordinator in the Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities Service. Diane Reidy-Lagunes, a medical oncologist and Associate Deputy Physician-in-Chief of MSK’s Regional Care Network, moderated the discussion.
As MSK’s partner in this educational series, Linda Thompson, the Health Ministry Leader of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, provided the opening and closing remarks. MSK and the Abyssinian Baptist Church worked together in 2021 to get the COVID-19 vaccine to New York City’s underserved populations. Since then, the two organizations have continued to partner on community health education.
Can Certain Foods Prevent Cancer?
One key takeaway from the talk was that what you eat impacts your cancer risk. You can lower your risk by changing what you eat.
Dr. Iyengar pointed out that doctors can’t tell when a cancer is caused by a poor diet or lack of exercise. But in the long term, a healthy diet and lifestyle provide protection against developing cancer.
Forming healthy eating habits is important because there is no single food that prevents cancer.
“If you read a claim that a food prevents cancer, chances are it is not based on evidence,” said Dr. Iyengar. “The most important thing is what your overall dietary pattern looks like.”
He noted that a good diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods high in fiber, and limits the intake of red meat and highly processed foods.
The panelists also shared some of their tips for making better food choices. Try substituting flavored seltzer water for soda, or a protein shake for a milkshake. And if a sugar craving strikes, go for high-fiber fruits, like an apple or orange, or dark chocolate with almonds.
National Nutrition Month (March): Celebrating Food and Healthy Eating
On March 8, 2022, MSK’s Food and Nutrition Services hosted “Celebrating National Nutrition Month at MSK,” an online event about healthy eating.
The panel of MSK speakers included registered dietitian nutritionists Karla Giboyeaux, Katherine Urban, and Cynthia Wong, registered nurse Heidi Sadowsky, sous chef Marjorie Young, and MSK patient Thomas Graham, a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council for Quality. The event was moderated by Lisa Yeung, the Director of MSK’s Food and Nutrition Services.
Nutrition Services at MSK
MSK offers nutrition counseling, and the panelists described what it’s like for people with cancer to work with a registered dietitian. The goal is to create a personalized approach to nutrition.
MSK’s kitchen provides food for people who are admitted to the hospital. Ms. Young noted that MSK’s chefs come from all over the world, and they work to prepare dishes that are as authentic as possible.
“When we want to prepare a traditional Indian dish, we will turn to our chefs who are natives of India and Sri Lanka, or we tap into our Caribbean and West Indian cultures,” she said.
Embracing Cultural Traditions
The panelists also provided practical ways to make delicious and healthy meals that embrace cultural practices and traditions while balancing dietary needs.
Ms. Wong provided an example: In the Chinese culture, food is often served in a communal style during large family gatherings. This is an opportunity to incorporate more plant-based foods.
“In addition to making meat-based dishes, you could serve more vegetables and offer lots of choices like sautéed choy sum, watercress, and Chinese broccoli,” she said. “For Korean dishes, bibimbap can include a lot of vegetables and small portions of protein, including tofu.”
For more nutrition-focused programming, please register for Cooking With Karla, a monthly nutrition workshop from MSK Ralph Lauren Center. The next event in this series will be on March 24, 2022, at and will focus on a gut-friendly breakfast.
For food assistance in New York City, check out these local organizations: Food Bank for New York City, Hunger Free NYC, New York Common Pantry, and Uptown Grand Central.