Avoiding the Food Rut: Add Variety through Spices, Vegetables, and More

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Amidst the pressures and schedules of daily living, it is easy for individuals and families to get into a “food rut;” i.e. making the same meals and using the same ingredients. With the abundance of natural and healthy ingredients at our fingertips, it would be a shame not to try new foods and new methods of cooking to maximize our nutritional benefit. As November is Lung Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, it is the perfect time to make some changes. People with these types of cancer have been shown to benefit dramatically from healthy, plant-based foods and good nutrition. This month, let’s make an effort to add more of this to our diets – by trying new foods and including more variety. Here are some ideas to start:

Add Herbs and Spices

Using new herbs and spices can seem overwhelming since there are so many different varieties. Pairing them by cuisine can help give you some guidance and direction. For example, coriander, oregano and cumin are commonly used in Mexican dishes, while cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg work wonderfully in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Experimenting with herbs and spices will, not only, add extra depth to your meals, but they will also provide your body with a number of nutritional benefits. Research has shown that herbs and spices have the most cancer-fighting antioxidants than any other food group, including fruits and vegetables.(1)  Turmeric, ginger, cloves and oregano are among the top five on the list.1 Many herbs and spices also have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as, a number of other health conditions, including lung and pancreatic cancers.(2)

Substitute New Protein Sources

Chicken, beef, pork and fish are the most common protein sources used in our society today. While they are high in protein, they are missing out on so much more. There are many plant-based proteins that provide more than just protein–lentils, soy, and whole grains also contain dietary fiber and phytochemicals, two compounds shown to reduce cancer risk.(3) Grilling tofu instead of beef or pork and replacing animal protein with lentils are just a couple substitutions that can reduce the risk of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. (4,5) Whole grains are also excellent sources of protein. Choosing quinoa, farro or sorghum grains, instead of white rice, will not only provide more variety to your meals, but they also contain a substantial amount of protein. Pairing a whole grain with roasted vegetables and your favorite nut or seed can be a healthy and hearty plant-based meal.

Increase Fruits and Vegetables

Just like herbs and spices, the number of different fruits and vegetables is vast and at times, can be overwhelming. Confusion over how to fix them, cut them or even pick them out at the grocery store can be a major deterrent to trying a new one. Getting advice at your local health food store or farmer’s market is one way to help ease that anxiety. Nutritionally, choosing brightly colored fruits and vegetables and eating multiple varieties will provide you the greatest health benefit. Each type provides different antioxidants and phytochemicals, which can produce different, positive benefits for your body.3 For example, sweet potatoes are much higher in carotenoids, a cancer-fighting antioxidant, than the white potato, while deep green vegetables such as chard, kale and collard greens, provide more vitamins and minerals over commonly eaten vegetables, such as green beans and romaine lettuce.3 Ultimately, the main goal regarding fruits and vegetables is to eat them often and eat enough of them.
Research has shown a strong link between a diet high in fruits and vegetables and a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, including lung cancer. (6 )

Need Some Inspiration?

For your next “Taco Tuesday,” add some variety! The spices and herbs, lentils, and vegetables used in this burrito, may be new ingredients to you, but they are all packed with cancer-fighting nutrition.

Spiced Lentil Burrito

Ingredients: 4 tomatoes – seeded and chopped 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro 2 medium-size leeks (white parts only) 1 tablespoon olive oil ¾ teaspoon dried marjoram ¾ teaspoon chili powder ½ teaspoon ground coriander ¼ teaspoon ground cumin ½ teaspoon hot sauce (optional) 2 cups cooked green, black or brown lentils (if using canned lentils, drain and rinse before using) 4 whole-wheat flour tortillas or Swiss chard leaves

Directions: 1. In large bowl, toss the tomatoes, lime juice and cilantro. Set aside. 2. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Clean thoroughly. Chop into small pieces. 3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, marjoram, chili powder, coriander, cumin and hot sauce. Sauté for about 5 minutes until the leeks are tender and translucent. Add the lentils and mix. 4. Divide the mixture into four equal portions and place on the tortilla 5. Add the tomato mixture and roll up the tortillas or chard leaves into burritos.

Excerpted from The Meals to Heal Cookbook by Susan Bratton and Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Adding new foods to your diet can take some initial work and uncertainty, but eventually it will become fun and easy. This November, make small changes to your daily menu to get out of the “food rut” and reduce your risk of lung and pancreatic cancers.


1. Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Phillips KM, Bohn SK, Holte K, Jacobs Jr., DR, Blomhoff R. Content of redox-activity (i.e. antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84(1):95-135.

2. Kaefer CM, Milner JA. The Role of Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention. J Nutr Biochem. 2008;19(6):347-361.

3. Phytochemicals: The Cancer Fighters in Your Food. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed October 27, 2017.

4. 3 Ways to Grill for Lower Cancer Risk, Say Cancer Experts. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed October 27, 2017.

5. Nothlings U, Wilkens LR, Murphy SP, Hankin JH, Henderson BE, Kolonel LN. Meat and Fat Intake as Risk Facotrs for Pancreatic Cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2005;97(19):1458-1465.

6. Recommendations for Cancer Prevention: 4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed October 27, 2017.


If you enjoyed this recipe there are plenty more in our Meals to Heal Cookbook–written to meet the unique needs of cancer patients and caregivers and offering 150 recipes to make eating less stressful, more convenient, and simply more enjoyable. Created by oncology-credentialed registered dietitians, these delicious, nourishing, easy-to-prepare dishes are full of the nutrients you need to maintain strength during treatment. Loaded with essential nutrition info and recipes coded by common symptoms and side effects (including fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, mouth sores, taste and smell aversion, and others).



Susan Bratton

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Susan founded Savor Health in 2011 after a career on Wall Street where she represented and focused exclusively on early and growth stage healthcare services and insurance companies. During her tenure on Wall Street, Susan was a member of the healthcare groups at firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Robertson Stephens and Wasserstein, Perella & Co.

Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management. She is actively involved in a number of industry associations including Women Business Leaders in Healthcare. She also serves on the Advisory Board of HCap, the national leading venue for healthcare providers and capital to meet, and is the Secretary for Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally on the role of proper nutrition in the cancer patient at industry association meetings as well as advocacy group summits and other oncology meetings.

Her work in oncology extends beyond Savor Health and speaking on the role of nutrition to her volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.


Jessica A. lannotta

MS, RD, CSO, CDN, Chief Operating Officer

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master’s degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.
Savor Health is a trusted cancer nutrition expert that patients, caregivers and healthcare enterprises rely on for safe, effective and evidence-based nutrition information and programs. Savor Health is working to put an end to the one third of cancer deaths due to severe malnutrition by providing cancer patients and survivors with individualized disease-specific nutrition solutions through nutritional counseling, menu planning, customized recipes and a 150 recipe cookbook – Meals to Heal.

To learn more about Savor Health please visit

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