The media is full of things on diets: Paleo, Whole30, gluten free, vegan, South Beach, vegetarian, Pesca-tarian, AIP, Atkins, Mediterranean, Lo-Carb, no-carb etc. You name it, there is a diet for that. This can overwhelm even the best of us. But going through cancer can add a whole other level to this stress. You have doctors telling you where you are deficient nutrients-wise, nurses giving you their ten cents about what you should do, friends and family sending you this and that article about nutrition (well meaning bloggers giving you their opinion about nutrition). It's enough to send you over the edge.
And there is definitely values in all well thought out diets (meaning ones that aren't some lame fad diet like 'The Grapefruit Diet', the 'Cabbage Soup diet', 'The Baby Food Diet' or the 'Only green and purple food diet'...ok I made that one up). If you have Celiacs Disease you need to eat Gluten Free - full stop. If you have diabetes you need to rethink your sugar intake. My niece has leaky gut and she is constantly working with diets to heal her stomach. Food is a source of comfort and joy but also a source of energy and nutrients. I don't need to tell you this.
This morning I was watching CBS This Morning. They were doing a show on different aspects of cancer. One of the segments was a re-broadcast of a previous segment on diet and cancer.
I remember when I was first diagnosed how many people questioned my diet. Now I will admit freely that I'm one of millions of Americans stuck in the 'I just need to lose a few pounds' club, but I did eat a pretty health diet. I probably needed to lay off the wine (but hey, I taught music and theatre to high school students! Was there ever a job that didn't call for a glass of wine more at the end of a long day? I had been a vegetarian for about 9 years, but gave it up about the same time I gave up being a professional singer (there might be some psychological reasoning for that. But this isn't the blog to be working that issue out)
Once I was diagnosed with Leukemia I became somewhat obsessed with trying to get the 'perfect' diet so that I would be healthy.
Can I tell you how hard that is when you are on chemo? But it didn't stop my quest. I was watching a lot of food TV. I stumbled upon the documentary "In Defense of Food" (2015) by Michael Pollan. It was on PBS but you can now download it on Netflix. It is based on his book of the same name that came out in 2008.
In it Pollan takes on the processed food industry. He takes on what we call the 'Western Diet' which is a diet loaded with sugar, salt, and fat which is found primarily in processed foods which is said to make up 60% of the Western diet. He also takes on what he calls 'Nutritionistm' which he defines by there being 'always a group of blessed nutrients and evil nutrients'. This is truly represented by the low-fat craze of the 90's. The idea that all fat is bad has now been replaced the better understanding that certain types of fat are good for you (Omega 3s) and some are less good for you but still needed (Omega 6s).
Pollan really goes after the amount of sugar added to processed food. It's everywhere! He goes after the food industry hard. He goes after how the food industry goes after the lower income population. This diet is causing an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart problems and of course, cancer.
*ding ding ding*
Pollan then goes through how the body is supposed to eat starting with mother's milk going through adulthood. He looks at different cultures and their approach to eating. He comes to the conclusion in 10 words:
Eat food. Eat REAL food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
To me, that is the easiest approach to eating that I have found. It doesn't say you can't eat meat, gluten, carbs, dairy or anything that is currently the 'bad guy' in the diet world. The only thing he recommends to eschew is processed, high sugar foods (edible food-like substances). It is an easier approach to diet than many of the people who are nutrient obsessed.
But what about the nutrients I lose during chemo? Trust me, I can hear your thoughts from here! I know that my current chemo is making my body always low in Potassium. How do I counter act that? That's where you can get all nutrient obsessed. But it's easier to research one nutrient and add (or subtract) it from your diet as needed. Your body absorbs nutrients from food better than pills. I can focus in on those nutrients I need or need to avoid.
What I took away from this as a cancer patient effected me more when I was in my in between chemo treatments. It made me look for recipes and meals that were more plant-based with smaller portions (There were days, mind you, that this wasn't hard and then there were days that it was very difficult). But it made this in between time easier to manage.
This approach to food doesn't come without its opponents. Here is a great criticism that was written about the documentary and book.
I will let you watch this documentary and you can come to your own conclusions, but this is what I took out of it. I like the quote toward the end of the documentary from Oscar Wilde "All things in moderation, including moderation!"
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