It continues to shock me that cancer patients treated by conventional doctors are usually told they can eat pretty much whatever they want. It’s an all-too-common – and wrong – message delivered by oncologists.
But, at least there’s a positive, upward trend toward better nutrition advice as evidence mounts that what a cancer patient eats can make a dramatic difference. Every week come more reports that prove the point.
So if a cancer doctor tells you or someone you love, “Eat what you want; there’s no diet that makes a difference.”
You can tell them there’s proof there is…
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Best thing to hit survival rates since washing hands
Back in February of 2015, the American Cancer Society took diet recommendations one step forward and suggested that cancer survivors veer toward “plant-based diets.” The report went on to say those folks should be eating mostly fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains, and that foods like red and processed meats, refined grains, and sugars should be kept to a minimum or not eaten at all.
Note, this isn’t the same as recommending a few extra servings of fruits and vegetables and less meat. The emphasis is on the plant-based part of the diet—as in eating actual whole foods, including whole grains, and avoiding almost everything else.
They’re on the right track, because increasing data shows it makes a huge difference in cancer prevention and recovery. In fact, a plant-based diet can reduce the odds of a woman developing breast cancer by as much as 90%. In contrast, a diet heavy on meat and processed foods actually boosts breast cancer risk by up to 31%.
Back in 2004, a researcher named McCarty showed us why. McCarty came up with a dietary quality index called the “phytochemical index.” It reflects the percentage of nutrient-rich calories people get from unprocessed plant foods, on a scale of zero to one hundred. The higher you score, the lower your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and most other health issues.
Researchers then looked at the diets of 100 women with breast cancer who scored, on average, less than 18, and compared them to 175 healthy, cancer-free women, who averaged a score of over 30. They determined that scoring higher on the whole plant diet index could reduce the odds of breast cancer more than 90 percent. Unfortunately, most Americans score around a 10 or lower.
Take a look at another powerful study that shows the effect of plant-based eating on cancer. Titled the Gene Expression Modulation by Intervention with Nutrition and Lifestyle (GEMINAL) study, Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues collected biopsies from men with prostate cancer.
Then, after three months of intense lifestyle changes, including a plant-based diet, the researchers again took biopsies from the men. They found beneficial changes in gene expression for over five hundred different genes, including a dramatic boost in the expression of disease-preventing genes. In addition, oncogenes were suppressed (these are the genes that promote breast and prostate cancer). And all this was done without the use of chemotherapy or radiation.
Thanks to this and loads of other impressive research-based evidence, we can say with confidence that a low-fat, plant-based diet can improve survival rates for those battling breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma.
The mind-blowing, cancer-purging
benefits of a plant-based diet
Now, what do these authorities mean by a plant-based diet? Think of it as one step up from going vegan. Whereas vegans avoid animal products largely because of moral sentiments, those who follow a plant-based diet tend to stay away from five major food categories: Meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods, and refined foods. Instead, they embrace fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and certain tubers.
The specific benefits of foods consumed in a plant-based diet vary in terms of how they affect the body, and cancer in particular. But in general, it’s the various phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables that work in concert to lower cancer risk, often by slowing cancer cell growth or blocking inflammation.
An example is cruciferous vegetables, which help regulate your body’s enzymes and can stop cancer cell growth. In addition, the fiber from various plant-based foods moves food quickly through your digestive system, helping to keep your internal organs clean and functional and less likely to succumb to cancerous mutations.
6 easy steps to plant-based eating
Here are some simple guidelines for adopting a more plant-based diet:
- The more color, the better. Antioxidants are more abundant in foods with bright colors. So when it comes to choosing vegetables, opt for more color whenever possible. This means purple cabbage instead of white cabbage, or spinach greens over iceberg lettuce.
- Stay away from white foods, like bread, pasta, rice, creamy sauces, and cakes. These are usually made from processed or refined grains. For maximum health, wheat, rice, sugar, milk and potatoes need to go.
- Choose whole seeds and grains when possible.
- Drink mainly water or green tea.
- Limit fatty and processed meats, as well as dairy and eggs.
- Embrace plant protein with every meal, such as beans, lentils, and peanuts.
If you feel like it’s too much for you to give up meat, dairy, and eggs , then consider only eating those foods at dinner and enjoy plant-based recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Author and food critic Mark Bittman has an intriguing book about this approach called VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good. Mr. Bittman outlines a balance between eating a mostly plant-based diet and still being able to enjoy some of your favorite non-plant based dishes.
But whether you go full-throttle plant-based or just increase your plant consumption by a little, you’ll be moving in the right direction when it comes to protecting yourself from cancer.
I hope to see more research organizations in America focus on diet. When you consider that cancer survival statistics have barely improved over the last 40 years despite claims of medical advances, it’s pretty clear that current methods aren’t cutting it.
Conventional treatments sometimes work for early-stage cancer but they only contribute to a late-stage cancer patient’s misery. When patients could benefit in a major way from something as simple as changing their diet to plant-based whole foods… I wonder why every oncologist isn’t recommending this.
I want to clarify a couple of the recommendations above. When it comes to avoiding fat, be concerned mostly about fat from animal sources. Fats from plant sources such as nuts, avocado, coconut, and olives are good for you and should be eaten in abundance.
Meat, as our sources suggest, is probably okay in moderation, and please eat ONLY organic or grass-fed meat. I think Mark BIttman is on the right track. I aim to eat meat no more than three times a week. The evidence that it’s linked to cancer is mixed, but scary enough to keep me from making meat a daily habit. It’s a good idea to remember that nutrition is enormously complicated and new evidence is constantly emerging.