Cancer: You Are What You Eat

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Yesterday I shared a little of our family’s story, of discovering that my dad had cancer, the shock and aftermath, and my drive to DO something to help him (plus the top 10 fruits and vegetables to fight cancer). Armed with the power of the Internet, I drove north to do some food education and freezer stocking. Here’s what happened…

Can Food Cause or Prevent Cancer

I had done a bit of research before I left home and had purchased gads of food for them so I could make meals and also introduce some new concepts, plus leave lots of ingredients with them (particularly because my folks live in a very rural area and don’t have access to the kinds of fruits and vegetables I do).

When I arrived, I spent a late night combing the Internet for everything I could find. If there was any evidence that a certain food might help diminish the cancer or boost immunities to weather chemo better, I copied it onto my list. (Unfortunately this post might not be incredibly well-sourced, because I was just flying through and making notes for myself, not necessarily keeping track of where the information came from.)

You can find all sorts of “cancer cures” on the web:

  1. Some say asparagus every day will kill cancer, just like that.
  2. Some say juicing 13x/day, coffee enemas and pretty much eating no other food beyond the juice is better than chemo (Gerson Therapy in a nutshell).
  3. Maybe low-carb, high protein diets reduce tumor growth and cancer risk…
  4. …or maybe animal products cause cancer and grains/veggies are the way to go.
  5. Some say mega doses of Vitamin C are the first and best line of defense.
  6. Plenty of sources claim changing your pH by eating alkaline foods will make your body completely inhospitable to cancer.
  7. And tons and tons of sources claim that sugar feeds cancer and you can pretty much starve tumors by cutting sugars.
  8. There’s the Budwig protocol, which claims just eating cottage cheese mixed with flax oil every day will cure cancer, no problem (oh and of course zero meats, fats, oils, and some other things…).

I’ve received links and information from readers as time has gone on as well – everyone has some way to cure cancer, 100% certainty.

All of these “simple cures,” some of which really aren’t so simple but rather a huge commitment and work-intensive, really seem too good to be true. With the exception of the Gerson Therapy, I don’t know that any of them hold much water (not sure about Gerson either, but it’s definitely more well-known and widely tried).

However – I like to believe that there’s an element of truth in all of them.

Eating real food is always a good thing. Certain foods can certainly have protective effects while others definitely have harmful effects, so I figured if I could encourage my dad to cut some of the junk that might hurt him and beef up on the good stuff, it had to be a huge step in the right direction.

I collated all the information, the research-based and the slightly off-the-wall, into a few lists of foods to eat often, sometimes, hardly ever and hopefully never.

On the question of “animal products vs. grains” I went with what we’ve been living the past few years: That grains are inflammatory, high in carbs, and not extremely helpful, and that properly raised animal products provide much needed fat, protein, vitamins and minerals to the system.

An emphasis on vegetables first, then fruits, then animal products is the best way to eat to fight cancer in my opinion.

Here are the lists I printed out for my parents:

If you can’t see the PDF above, click HERE to get it in a new window.

I included on the “eat often” list many alkaline foods, foods with antioxidants to fight oxidation and cell damage (and hopefully even repair some cells), some cruciferous veggies that have been shown specifically to reduce risk/severity of bladder cancer and foods high in omega 3s, Vitamin D and detoxification qualities.

I asked Dad to avoid sugary foods, refined grains of all kinds, white potatoes as much as possible (starchy carbs), industrial oils, cured meats (nitrates are on the list of “might cause bladder cancer”), and foods high in omega 6 inflammatory fatty acids.

The top 10 foods to fight cancer from yesterday are those that either seemed the most potent for bladder cancer in particular, that showed up on the most lists, or that also may help detox from chemo.

I’m a Teacher…so What did I Teach?

green smoothies (5) (500x375)

The weekend included quite a bit of food education for my mom, who actually has been following in my footsteps already as I journey to real food.

She makes homemade sourdough bread and homemade yogurt, uses coconut oil, soaks her oatmeal, has cut way down on her own refined sugar intake (and even reduced grains a bit) over the past few years, and has already switched many of her personal products to the natural stuff, including using baking soda, honey, and ACV to wash her face after I bought Crunchy Betty’s Food on Your Face for Acne and Oily Skin for her.

So all my lists weren’t as far of a stretch for her as they would be for a standard American eater (thank goodness). Smile

However, new things included:

We tried a “whole lemon drink” I’d found on the Cancer Survivors’ Network, but it’s no longer there. (This one is the same basic idea but the one we tried included ginger and a few other minor additions that we didn’t even have.)

I thought my dad was going to toss his cookies! It was very unpalatable; won’t do that again!

I also brought a few bags of dried fruits that were on the good and okay lists, including figs, which he’d never even had before, so that Dad could have some snacky foods and something to satiate his sweet tooth without ice cream or doughnuts.

I had to send my dad a shipment of Juice Plus+ supplements. There is much research on the benefits of this supplement, but I was really moved to just jump in and do it because a few months ago our moms’ group at church hosted a speaker with quite a story:

Her 3yo had cancer, normal treatment, got better, had an awful medical crisis at age 4 (I forget the specifics) mostly as a result of the chemo/radiation, and then the cancer came back anyway at 5. At that time they radically changed their lives – eating, personal products, cleaning products, plastics, cordless phones, turned off their home’s power grid at night to give his body a rest from EMFs…pretty much anything that might cause cancer, they eliminated it and added Juice Plus to his regimen. Zero treatments, and he’s now a healthy 20-year-old.

How could I NOT give it a try? I ordered some and told them it was the easiest way to increase fruits and veggies, particularly in the northern climate where they won’t see farmer’s market fare until July.

Healthy Anti-Cancer Food we Cooked

Made with Turmeric - Coconut Cabbage Chicken Soup

During the weekend, I was determined to keep Dad grain-free entirely and show him that it didn’t have to feel like a death sentence. Luckily he really liked the grain-free banana breakfast cake/muffins, but I over-spiced the pumpkin pancakes, so that was a bust. The cheesy grain-free biscuits from Better Than a Box were okay, and I was able to freeze some of each of these as well.

I made huge pots of chicken broth and beef bone broth to stock Mom’s freezer so she could make easy soups, and I also made 3 full batches of soup so that they had about a dozen frozen quarts, especially for those days when they would be returning from the hospital after chemo, a 5-hour drive:

For dinner one night we made a sort of chicken stir fry with TONS of veggies, especially greens, artichokes (those went into absolutely everything that weekend), cabbage and turmeric. Instead of rice, we made cauli-rice and offered the grain-free cheesy biscuits and a side of asparagus and broccoli, neither of which were in the main dish. I whipped up a cabbage slaw with red and green cabbage, apple cider vinegar (the only vinegar on the “approved” pH list), olive oil, and herbs. It turned out really yummy!

I don’t think anyone went hungry, but my dad definitely was thinking, “Where’s the meat?” and “Where’s the rice?” in his head (the chicken was not the star of the stir fry).

Meal Planning for Cancer

Rather than go with a meal plan and favorite recipes in mind, I worked from this list – What should Dad be eating more of? I’m going to figure out how to incorporate as many as possible into every meal!

One reader mentioned a great idea after yesterday’s post: she’s going to make some patterns in her Plan to Eat menu plan to remind herself to use those cancer-fighting foods regularly, in some way. The KS group in PTE is also super helpful for doing an ingredient search and having a good chance of getting a real food recipe instead of one laden with processed foods and sugar.

You could even save a week or two weeks’ worth of meal plans in Plan to Eat (a customizable meal planning software) and then reuse them once you know you’ve incorporated foods you want to be eating more of.

A Miracle of Grain-Free?

When I visited, my dad was feeling okay but not amazing because he’d had a few bladder surgeries and explorations, and that coupled with some of the medications he had to take was making a lot of bathroom trips uncomfortable in many ways.

I was hoping that going grain-free for 3-4 days would make a quick, noticeable difference for him, which would be a super incentive for him to stick to the plan and try to avoid grains during this process.

It didn’t, at least not that I understood.

So the realistic plan for Dad has been to:

  • reduce grain intake
  • eat homemade sourdough when he does have bread
  • avoid refined sugars as much as possible
  • drink a lot of water (to keep the kidneys healthy)
  • cut out coffee, or at least all but one cup
  • use Juice Plus+ supplements
  • diffuse some essential oils
  • make smoothies with greens as often as possible + probiotics
  • drastically increase vegetables as much as possible
  • cut nitrates/cured meats

He’s done really well overall, and my mom is a champion at keeping up – she’s the chef for sure and also the “nurse” who fills his water bottles and tea for the day, brings him supplements and smoothies, reminds him how and when to take all his prescriptions, prepare the EO diffuser, and more. We’re so grateful she’s there for him!

She was going to comment on yesterday’s post, but I asked her if I could just share her thoughts with you today, so this is my Mom:

When Katie first presented her research-­based lists, I was overwhelmed. The realistic me knew:

  1. There is no way we could/would follow all of it
  2. If we could do at least 50%, we’d be far ahead of many who have conquered cancer w/ chemo, etc. and
  3. We’ll do our best to fit as many things into our days as we can.

What have we been doing? Juicing was restricted to weekends because I wanted to use the juicer two days in a row. Why, you may ask. It’s tough to clean, so I would flush the screens with water and bag and refrigerate the innards overnight. I had to make sure I wouldn’t get called to substitute teach, so weekends were the ‘for sure’ days. Prep work to juice is labor intensive, so it has gone by the wayside of late.

Processed foods have never played a major part in our meals, but we have reduced them. The one hold­out is Campbell’s Tomato Soup used in goulash and spaghetti. (Those 2 recipes are so well­ liked that my husband was in a panic when he thought there was a possibility of chemo-­induced taste ­changes that would make them awful. Fortunately, not so far.)

There has been no purchased bread in the house since February. Homemade sourdough bread has been the only bread until just recently. He was so disappointed in only having sourdough as his toast, so I made plain, white bread on Easter weekend. He has had bread at restaurants, but has tried to cut back on the amount.

Smoothies are made most days and no two are alike. Some are enjoyed more than others, but he always drinks them. Leftovers for the day go into the freezer (and some into me!) for other days. Typically there is fresh or steamed & frozen kale or spinach included with the handfuls of frozen fruit and the Miessence InLiven probiotics. Often coconut milk is included. Yogurt is too tangy along with the lemon I sneak in. I’ve even added gelatin to increase the nutrients. Gelatin is a bit tricky and I’ve decided I need to add it after everything has been blended thoroughly first. (Whole frozen fruit + gelatin = too thick to mix)

The top 10 list sadly includes things that are rarely in the house. Beets, raw broccoli (although cooked gets on the menu fairly often), cabbage and the like don’t make appearances very often. I am working hard to incorporate lemon into as many things as possible (the smoothie is an easy target). Lemon or lime in drinking water might get by him, but he notices and doesn’t sound exactly happy.

The lemon­-artichoke­-chicken recipe I tried won’t get used again even though I drastically reduced the lemon. It was still very lemon­y! We had sprouts here, but only because Katie brought and sprouted them. Topping his salad with them worked, so it’s time to grow sprouts on my own.

Recently Katie sent a rooibos tea called Red Rocks. Her dad is glad to have a hot beverage. He’d rather have coffee, but needs to limit its intake because it is a diuretic. One of the chemo drugs is hard on the kidneys and he needs to keep them flushed with plenty of fluids.

One of the recommendations highlighted by the cancer educator to avoid or treat mouth sores is a rinse with salt and baking soda in warm water. He rinses each morning and night as long as I prep the glass for him. It really bugs me when I forget, but fortunately it has been rare. No mouth sores have appeared to date! Yay!

Staying focused and on target is challenging. Complacency looms because he seems so normal (healthy) and generally feels good. We have no idea what helps him the most, so we need to stay vigilant, making wise(r) food choices.

Still to come on “cancer week” at Kitchen Stewardship:

Remember that I’m just a mom with an Internet connection – I don’t know much, but I always try to work with what I have and make nourishing magic happen. You can do this too!

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon and Crunchy Betty’s book from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. Plan to Eat is an April sponsor receiving their complementary mention. See my full disclosure statement here.

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28 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Karen says

    Katie, what you are doing for your parents is amazing! I am praying for you and your family. I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into teaching readers like me how to be healthier by eating better.

  2. Joan-Marie says

    Bless your heart Katie! I know how hard it is to get your Dad to eat healthy to battle cancer. I am in the same boat with my Dad. My Dad has taken some of the things I told him to heart but mostly he just wants to do what he wants to. It is so frustrating! I love reading your blog and I use your book “Better than a Box” all the time. I know some of the recipes by heart now :) My health and GERD have drastically improved since I started following a Whole foods diet. I even managed to lose a few pounds. Thank you so much for all you do to help those of us out there who follow your blog. I hope everything goes well for your Dad.

      • Joan-Marie says

        Cheesy Beef and Mac (my 10 year old loves this), Chicken Stock, White Sauce, Bisquick Substitute, Homemade Mayo, Instant Pudding, and especially the Cream of Chicken Soup 2 cans recipe. Because of the soup recipe I was able to convert several of my casserole recipes to whole foods. I use it so much I can make it without even thinking about it. I also make make my own bread crumbs and used your stuffing recipe to make a topping for several casseroles that called for corn flakes or panko bread crumbs. My family likes the stuffing topping much better.

  3. says

    Thank you for this! My MIL just started chemo yesterday, but not for cancer, for a very obscure blood disorder.

    I would also be interested in which essential oils you are diffusing to help with the symptoms of chemo. I’ve been scouring for information on how to help, and this is full of some good ideas!

    • says

      I’m so sorry, Gretchen, I hope her chances are good and she pulls through tough like my dad is so far! Frankincense and geranium are the two we’re using. Frankincense has some particular research on bladder cancer, so both of them are really to attempt to kill the tumor in spite of the chemo. Frankincense has about a million other purposes though, so who knows? It’s possible it’s helping lessen the effects of chemo. So hard to guess! I hope you find more for your MIL!

  4. Eileen says

    My favorite way to get lemon is to add it to my homemade kefir. I freeze an organic lemon, send it thru a food processor. Quickly I spread it on a cookie sheet and pop it into the freezer for a hour or overnight. I use a spatula to break it up and add to big jar or plastic bag in the freezer . I keep some in a smaller jar that I pull out each day and add to my yogurt with some stevia. I like it better than bananas. Maybe your dad would like it this way, As a believer you might like to look up this site. Your dad is blessed to have such a loving daughter.

    • Eileen says

      Clarification: when I say I send it thru the food processor I meant I used the shredder attachment not the chopping paddle.

  5. Anita Sharp says

    I’m really enjoying your articles. Thanks for all your hard work. But for some reason I am unable to see your lists of food recommendations. Good luck to your dad!

  6. casey says

    I think the internet is a great tool and resource for many things – however the downside is there is just so much information out there and a lot of it contradicts itself so how do you know which is right? Even when it comes from a ‘reputable source’ like say Dr. Oz it’s still not necessarily the right thing for everyone. BTW, I missed the episode last week but apparently he had a segment about diet soda causing cancer, is your dad a pop addict by any chance? I noticed you have it on your ‘foods to avoid list’.

    I also had to laugh at your mom’s comment about the white bread – my dad came to visit a few weeks ago and I had to buy white flour english muffins for him becasue he won’t eat the whole wheat ones (yeah i know they’re not good either but baby steps right?) He does occasionaly eat rye but won’t touch wheat bread unless he can’t tell – like when I made garlic croutons that weekend with leftover bread.

  7. April says

    I know it’s probably not as good as fresh juice, but I take one weekend a month and juice a TON, then freeze it all quickly in small portions (I use ice cube trays). Then we just let it thaw in a mason jar in the fridge overnight and drink it in the morning. I figure it’s much better than NO veggie juice. Maybe that would be helpful, since it really can be difficult to find time to juice every day (or even most days!). I also throw it into smoothies – usually a base of spinach/cucumber with a little apple for sweetness, maybe some carrot, beets, or cranberries. My 3 year old loves it, although it is a bit of an acquired taste.

  8. Samantha says

    I’m curious if oil pulling would help at all? I have found it very easy to do–not nearly as yucky as I anticipated, LOL–and with the detox effect, wouldn’t that be good? I thought of it when you were mentioning the rinse for mouth sores.

    • says

      I totally put it on the detox list – but they’re baby stepping. I think if he gets mouth sores, I might encourage it more. Dad was pretty anti a clay foot soak, but I’m hoping he’ll try it now that water is starting to taste metallic…
      Thanks! Katie

  9. Dara says

    So awesome to have all this info in one place! THANK YOU! One thing I’ve recently become aware of that might be really helpful for those (most of us?) who can’t keep up with juicing- Swanson’s has powdered juice! They have carrot, beet, and multiple types of greens (like wheat and barley grass… Hallelujah Acres recommends a lot of green juices because they’re not sweet).

  10. says

    Katie, thank you so much for such great info! So much of it echoed what I’ve found in my research, but so nice to have a lot of it in one place! I have forwarded it to two friends who are currently walking with their dad’s through cancer and chemo (one with esophageal and I forget the other). Both are hoping to use natural resources to help them fight.

    I’m glad to hear your dad is handling the chemo well so far. I have to admit I had very few side effects from my chemo. Some nausea and a lot of fatigue. I told my sister it felt like the first trimester of pregnancy for a few days after each treatment.

  11. says

    Katie- This comment is mostly for your mom, I’m planning to email you as there’s been a similar prognosis in my family and I, too, have been researching / reading / prepping myself with menus & recipes I can make and leave once I come home. Can I suggest the following two things (as a non-doctor / believer that food as our medicine in conjunction with Western medicine can really help).

    1.) Check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet pyramid (google it). It shows foods that are good at not causing inflammation. He actually does list grains, but intact whole grains- not grains that have been pulverized, but the ones that require the most chewing to help with digestion. In his cookbook, True Food Kitchen, he has a whole essay explaining. Refined or highly processed grains are problematic, but if your Dad wants a bit more, perhaps try steel-cut oats served with dairy-free milk for something hot or Uncle Sam cereal for something cold and easy.

    2.) Since your dad is drinking tea and the hot beverage tastes good to him, the Organic Berry Wellness blend available by Mighty Leaf Tea (google it for link) is a good one for drinking while on chemo.

    Hang in there Katie’s dad & mom. My prayers are with your family.

    • says

      Thank you Annelies!! For candida I’ve also read the “whole grains, not flour” discrepancy…and I have Dr. Weil’s cookbook but have hardly touched it. Time to get it off the shelf! I also see links between candida and cancer, and my dad has always had toenail fungus so I can’t imagine he DOESN’T have candida. Much to ponder!! Looking forward to your email – Katie

  12. Bonnie says

    I just want to take a minute to thank you for sharing everything you have been doing for your dad. I wish him the best and pray God will bless your efforts, and maybe, just maybe the doctor will take notice. That would be icing on the cake.

  13. says

    It would be selfish of me to not contact you and ask you to give me a call. One year ago we had a devastating scare in our family. Today we sing the Lord’s praises because of what he allowed us to learn through some people we didn’t know, but are now good friends.

  14. LB says

    I was wondering why popcorn is a “cheat” food. Is it just too starchy/inflammatory? Because air- or coconut oil-popped organic popcorn seems like a good, whole grain choice. And ham is listed as a no-no but pork is listed as sometimes. Why? (I do get that deli ham with nitrates is bad.) [Funny side note, I was wondering what “pop” was on the no-no list… like maybe it was supposed to be popcorn and was a typo. Then the comments section clued me in that you meant soda. Hahaha! Obviously my brain isn’t awake yet this morning.]

    • says

      Ham was because of the sugar, nitrates, processing, etc. It’s tough to find ham without nitrates and for my dad (and mom), much easier to just say “no ham.” Too many rules = nobody can keep up.

      As for popcorn, all corn is high in inflammatory omega 6 oils (so kind of always a “fun” food for any of us, really). Whole grains are still hard to digest for human beings, despite the current culture of thinking they’re the best health food out there. I would have liked my dad to omit all grains, actually, because of the inflammatory and digestibility issues, and popcorn is right in that boat.

      “Pop” in Michigan, yes, “soda” everywhere else!
      :) Katie

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