Cancer and cuisine: Kick-start the new year

January 15, 2014 | by

Maybe you decided to start the new year on a healthy note, by eating better and exercising regularly. Maybe you need help kick-starting this plan. City of Hope is here to help.

Snack on blueberries

Snacks are fine. Just make sure they're healthy, advises City of Hope's medical director Vijay Trisal. He and holistic health counselor Katja Wargin offer food-related advice for the new year.

On Jan. 25, City of Hope will host a free Ask the Experts lecture in Antelope Valley on the benefits of healthy eating, physical activity and weight management. The event will be held at the newly opened City of Hope | Antelope Valley clinic in Lancaster and will be preceded and followed by blood pressure screenings and body mass index measurements. (Another "Cancer and Cuisine event" will be held Jan. 28 at the City of Hope campus in Duarte.)

Vijay Trisal, M.D., medical director of community practices for the City of Hope Medical Foundation, will be one of the featured speakers, as will Katja Wargin, a certified holistic health counselor. Trisal will focus on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how it can lower cancer risks; Wargin will do a food demonstration, preparing an easy-to-make and healthy meal.

Here, both speakers answer questions to give you a sneak peek as to what they’ll be discussing at the Jan. 25 Ask the Experts event.

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First, an interview with Vijay Trisal:

What would be your top recommendations at the beginning of a new year for people who want to get healthy?

Vijay Trisal, M.D.

Vijay Trisal, medical director of community practices for the City of Hope Medical Foundation, offers tips on healthy eating.

Prepare yourself. We don’t always know what we want to eat, we just eat when we are hungry, and we eat what is convenient. Prepare beforehand; write down a list of foods to eat, like colorful foods that are natural and healthy snacks. Don’t get to the point where you are very hungry, because then you end up gorging yourself. Plan out what you want to eat.

The word "superfoods" has become a common term associated with specific types of foods. What are some of those foods and what are some general health benefits?

One of the things we tend to forget is that we have to have a balance in our diet. We don’t want to take in foods that aren’t in season. Locally produced, in-season food in moderate amounts is the best.

Superfoods like blueberries and mushrooms do have benefits for specific cancers like prostate cancer and breast cancer, but we need to have a wider spectrum. If you just have blueberries, you are missing out on a lot of other beneficial foods that are very critical. You need to have a balance.

What will you focus on at the Jan. 25 Ask the Experts?

I am going to focus on how we can change our eating habits at a basic level and step by step. Traumatic changes to our diet are doomed to fail. You need to take a step-based approach and be prepared for it and the changes to come.

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Next, an interview with Katja Wargin:

What is a holistic health counselor?

Katja Wargin

Katja Wargin, a Food for Life instructor, explains which foods you should eat.

As a holistic health counselor, I work as a supportive mentor educating and motivating people to take a more proactive role in staying healthy through lifestyle and behavior adjustments. Eating quality food, exercising regularly, cultivating a meaningful career, and minimizing stress will lead to a more fulfilling life.

I also conduct Food for Life nutrition and cooking classes focused on cancer prevention and diabetes reversal for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. In my private practice, I support clients through their cancer treatment with nutritional guidance.

Why did you decide to become a certified holistic health counselor and what is your educational background/work experience?

The majority of the chronic disease plaguing us today can be prevented by lifestyle changes.

Understanding these changes can be intimidating and confusing, I wanted to learn how to empower people to successfully make these adjustments. I am accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and hold a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University.

What types of food do you encourage people to include in their diet?

I recommend eating a colorful rainbow of foods from these four food groups daily: fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans). This way, you get all the protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals and especially phytochemicals your body needs to stay healthy. Regardless of diet, I suggest B12 supplementation, especially for people over 50 years of age.

What will you be covering at the Ask the Experts on Jan. 25?

I will focus on the importance of dark green leafy vegetables. Health benefits range from improving eyesight, lowering cholesterol levels and fighting cancer. These incredibly nutrient-rich greens should be included in your diet daily.

Can you give us a hint on what you will be preparing?

Since there are more ways to consume greens than just eating a salad, I will demonstrate an easy and delicious way to drink them instead.

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Reserve your seat by signing up for the Jan. 25 Ask the Experts lecture: "Cancer and Cuisine," to be held at our new location in Antelope Valley. You can also watch the Jan. 25 "Cancer and Cuisine" lecture live on our YouTube channel.

The lecture is 10 to 11:30 a.m. Blood pressure screenings and body mass index measurement will be provided beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting until 12:30 p.m. 

Or you can sign up for our Jan. 28 "Cancer and Nutrition" lecture, to be held in on our Duarte campus from 6 to 7:30 p.m. That lecture will feature Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of City of Hope's Division of Etiology, and Junior Perez, sous chef at Tender Greens. Read an interview with Bernstein and Perez.

Visit cityofhope.org/ask-the-experts for more details.