Week of December 24, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

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

Q: You talk about changing the proportions of meat and vegetables in stews and casseroles to make them more healthful. How do I do that to my favorite recipe?

A: Start with your usual stew or casserole recipe and check how much meat, chicken or seafood it contains. If the recipe calls for more than two or three ounces per person, reduce the amount. For dishes that contain dried beans, you can reduce the meat even further or omit it completely because beans are good sources of protein and key minerals that meat provides. If your recipe doesn’t contain beans, feel free to add them anyway. Aim for about a half-cup of cooked beans per serving. Next, increase the amount of vegetables to make up for the amount of meat you eliminate. If the recipe calls for only a few vegetables, add one or two other vegetables for better variety and more nutrients. Aim for at least a half-cup – preferably one cup or more – of vegetables per serving. You may need to add a little more broth, tomato sauce or other liquid in the dish to keep the same consistency. If you need ideas, check plant-focused recipes like those at the American Institute for Cancer Research ( You can use them as is, or feel free to play with them, making a sort-of hybrid between something that’s been your usual and the healthier, more plant-based dish.

Q: I’ve been hearing about calorie density and its effect on weight. If I want to lose weight, is it better to focus on calorie density and also count fat and calories, or is changing calorie density enough?

A: You will usually reduce fat and calories when you focus on calorie density because you are filling up on foods with fewer calories per bite. The same size portion of different foods can be very different in calories: for example, one cup of broccoli has only 60 calories compared to one cup of white rice at 200 calories. Studies show that each individual tends to eat about the same amount of food from day to day, so by including a large proportion of foods that are low in calorie density, you can feel full while eating fewer calories. Fat content is part of what determines a food’s calorie density, so when you eat foods low in calorie density, you already are limiting fat. In my experience, the simpler something is, the more easily people tend to succeed in following the advice. For example, start by eating at least 10 foods each day that are low in calorie density (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans) and eat no more than two servings of foods highest in calorie density (such as pastry and fried foods). The trick for success is to make sure that you are truly re-shaping your usual eating choices replacing foods concentrated in calories with foods low in calorie density. If you just add more vegetables, you’ll be getting more nutrients, but without cutting calories, you won’t lose weight. Eating plenty of foods low in calorie density should satisfy your hunger so well that it will help you limit calories. Do keep in mind that sometimes we eat more than we need not because we’re hungry, but because there’s extra food or because we’re eating out of boredom or stress. If those are tendencies you experience often, then address those problems directly; if you need help, look for a registered dietitian experienced in dealing with emotional or other non-hunger eating.

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