Healthy Pot Lucks, Turmeric, BMI vs Waist Size

Healthy Pot Lucks, Turmeric, BMI vs Waist Size

Q: Can you offer some healthy ideas for a potluck supper?
Q: Is the anti-cancer compound curcumin found in both turmeric and curry powder?
Q: What is the best indicator of whether I’ve gained too much weight: body mass index or waist measurement?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Can you offer some healthy ideas for a potluck supper?

A: Since potlucks can end up full of less-than-nutritious casseroles, consider bringing additions to balance them out: vegetables and fruit dishes. Try a salad that includes other vegetables in addition to some leafy greens, perhaps with a sprinkle of toasted nuts or dried fruit; toss it with a modest amount of olive oil and vinegar or reduced-fat dressing just before serving. Or make some oven-roasted vegetables in advance, being careful not to overcook them so you can reheat for the potluck. Alternatively, you could bring fruit salad made from a variety of seasonal fruits, topped with a bit of cinnamon, ginger or mint for extra flavor. Another approach is to try a healthier version of some classic main dishes. For example, make meatless lasagna with reduced-fat cheese and include lots of added vegetables. Most casseroles can be made healthier by using less added fat, lower fat dairy products and substituting poultry, lean meat or beans for high-fat meats. In addition, making vegetables the largest part of the dish helps dilute the calories significantly.

Q: Is the anti-cancer compound curcumin found in both turmeric and curry powder?

A: Technically, yes, but turmeric is a more concentrated source. Curcumin is the yellow pigment found in the ground spice called turmeric. Although curcumin content will vary from one batch of the spice to another, the curcumin content of curry powder is much more variable, since curry powder is not just one spice, but a mixture of turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and other spices. Emerging research suggests that curcumin may affect the activity of genes and proteins that control cell growth and cancer development, including the ability to stimulate cancer cell self-destruction. We still need to learn more about how well the body absorbs curcumin from food and what amounts provide optimal effects. Meanwhile, since turmeric provides flavor and color, some experts suggest adding a little extra turmeric when cooking, even if you start with a commercial curry powder as your base.

Q: What is the best indicator of whether I’ve gained too much weight: body mass index or waist measurement?

A: Body mass index (BMI) and waist size both provide important information. BMI gives a picture of overall body fatness. Although its formula doesn’t work well for athletes who’ve developed a lot of lean muscle weight or for the elderly, it offers most adults a reasonable picture. Waist size tells us about more specifically about abdominal fat, which seems to be most active in promoting inflammation throughout the body – a condition that raises multiple health risks. But your question hints at problems with a third indicator: adult weight gain. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research second expert report, increases in body weight during adulthood better reflect fat accumulation than weight itself. The report found that adult weight gain is probably a cause of postmenopausal breast cancer and, as research expands, we may see it linked to other cancers as well.