Last week I went to a presentation called Food for Thought: What You Need to Know About Nutrition and Cancer sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America. I was interested in the evening’s presentation because it featured both a nutritionist and a doctor of gastroenterology. As a colon cancer experiencer who has self-treated primarily with diet, I was interested to see what they had to say, and I was hoping that for them to specifically address nutrition as it relates to gastroenterological cancers.
The presentation fell short of the kind of depth I was envisioning, but it was interesting The evening was, without a doubt, a public relations effort on the part of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. I’m not a fan of sell-jobs, but at the same time, I do feel that CTCA would be one of my top options if I were to have to shop for cancer treatment. I appreciate a cancer establishment that at least uses the terms “integrated” “whole person” and “nutrition,” when describing their mission.
• Limit “fast foods” and sugary beverages like soda and juice drinks.
- This is a good one. I’m not sure if by fast foods in quotes, they are talking only about McDonalds and the like, which certainly should be included. But I would prefer it to also include “fast sugars”—these are also called “simple sugars,” as opposed to “complex carbohydrates.” These are white bread, fat-free ice cream, anything with the word “syrup” in it’s list of ingredients—all simple carbs that turn to sugar and release a fast burst of glucose into your bloodstream. There is a relationship between reducing sugar and fighting cancer, which I will discuss in a future post.
• Choose a diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables whole grains, and beans.
- Yes, yes, yes. For some reason when I read these kinds of lists, the “don’ts” always stands out more than the “dos.” But the fact is that if we followed this one piece of advice, most of the other recommendations here would be automatically included. Plant-based foods tend to be high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, low in simple sugars; they offer nutrition and anti-oxidents. If you are an alkaline/acid diet person, plant-based foods usually fall on the alkalizing side of the chart.
• Limit red meat consumption to no more than 4 meals per week. Also, limit portion to 3 ounces per meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards.
- This is something I really try to adhere to—although I tend to apply it to meat of all colors. Without being a vegetarian, whenever there is a decent vegetarian option available, I will tend toward that, and when I choose an animal protein, I try to reverse the normal plate layout, so that vegetables comprise the main portion and I “garnish” with meat.
• Avoid processed meats as much as possible (deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, etc)
- This is a fairly easy one for me, although it makes it harder to make a quick sandwich from a lot of writers/production office fridges. Barring extreme hunger, the only big temptation is bacon…because bacon is delicious. If it is served at a dinner party draped across a piece of chicken, I will usually eat a limited portion. But I don’t go to that many dinner parties. I might also mention here though—that along with these meats, I also try to keep my non-organic chicken to a minimum. It is often framed on restaurant menus as the low-fat option, but the amount of hormones and antibiotics present in conventional chicken is something I think we are just beginning to discover, not to mention ethical considerations. So this again, is something I’ll eat a few ounces of if it is being served by someone I know—after all, it’s being made with love—and that’s got to be nutritious!—but I don’t buy chicken from grocery stores or restaurants unless it’s organic, and even then, there’s usually a vegetarian choice I like just as well.
• Avoid or limit alcohol
- I drink maybe a couple times a year. I don’t have a lot of in-depth information about alcohol, but I believe people who say it’s not good for someone in my health situation. My dad had pancreatic cancer twice in his life, and in both cases it was preceded by an increase in his normal drinking habits for a period of time. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Generally, if you’re not in a high-risk group, alcohol messes with your glucose and insulin levels in some way, and that as a result of your body reacting to the alcohol as if it’s a poison. So limiting that seems wise.
• Limit salt-preserved, salted, or salty foods.
- I love salt, but don’t think I overdo it. My feeling is that the biggest culprit is “sneaky salt,” which is when you look at the back of packaged food and realize that your soup has a thousand milligrams of sodium. Fast foods are also infamous for their salt content of course. I will eat a bag of McDonald’s french fries with about the same frequency as I drink alcohol. I’m not sure what the relationship is between cancer and salt, so I may do some research and do a future post.
• Eat more high fiber foods such as 100% whole grain breads and cereals.
- I will be the first to agree—colon health is really important! Maybe because I am hyper aware of digestion, I feel like I hear so much about fiber all the time, but beyond “pushing things through” what does fiber actually do? Well, it also can reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. And it reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And
• Choose vegetable oils such as canola or olive oil and use sparingly. Limit fatty foods, especially animal fats.
- Olive oil is great. Canola oil has some caveats. I heard a great lecture once about the relationship between the kinds of fats we take in and cancer, deserving of a future post.