Only when a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma changed my life at the age of just 24 did I begin to view food as something more than a gift for my taste buds, a companion for loneliness or an initiator of guilt. Suddenly, food was a tool to help me fight my disease and nutrition was the fuel to keep me healthy.
According to Dr. Paul Reilly, a naturopath at Salish Cancer Center and co-author of the book "How to Treat and Prevent Cancer Through Natural Medicine," nutrition plays a powerful role in the body's ability to both ward off disease and to recover when illness strikes. Proper eating also helps cancer patients better manage the side effects of medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and prescription drugs.
For people like me, who discovered the importance of nutrition after a cancer diagnosis, my new relationship with food included such common-sense practices as eating more vegetables and fruits and decreasing my consumption of red meats and chemically-processed foods. Depending on the type of cancer someone has, nutritional advice may also include eliminating sugar from the diet or significantly increasing specific vitamins or minerals.
For people hoping to prevent the disease, here are some tips from Dr. Reilly's book that can help:
- Eat a "rainbow" assortment of fruits and vegetables. Select foods of different colors - red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple - to give your body the full spectrum of cancer-fighting compounds as well as the nutrients it needs for optimal function and protection against disease.
- Reduce exposure to pesticides. Buy organic produce or peel off the skin or outer leaves from non-organic produce. Avoid over-consuming foods that concentrate pesticides such as animal fat, meat, eggs, cheese and milk.
- Decrease your intake of meat and other animal foods. Limit your consumption of land animals (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, etc.) to 3 or 4 ounces a day. Avoid consuming well-done, charbroiled, fat-laden or cured meats. Other good sources of protein include fish, legumes, whey protein, free range organic eggs and soy.
- Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids, the "right" type of fat. To boost omega-3 fat intake, eat more cold-water fish such as salmon and halibut; use olive oil instead of margarine, shortening or butter; and cut out fried foods and fatty or salty snacks.
- Avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as junk foods, candy and soft drinks. Read labels carefully. If sugar, fat or salt is one of the first three ingredients listed, it's probably not a good option.
- Keep salt intake low and potassium intake high. Take the salt shaker off the table and omit added salt from recipes. Avoid canned vegetables and soups that are often extremely high in sodium. Eat bananas, oranges, apples and carrots to enhance potassium levels.
- Choose foods that will help your body detoxify and eliminate waste. Eat a high-fiber diet (beans, fruits and vegetables) and drink plenty of bottled, filtered or purified water.
- Take a high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral tablet each day. It is especially important to find one that provides sufficient levels of antioxidant nutrients.
Today, I am cancer-free and training for a marathon to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society! I still indulge occasionally in my favorite not-so-healthy treats, but my nutritional balance is weighted toward cancer-fighting foods that will help me enjoy a longer, happier, more active life.
For more information on the benefits of an integrated approach to cancer care-combining medical oncology with nutrition, naturopathy, acupuncture, and traditional Chinese Medicine - contact Salish Cancer Center.