The modern diet is high in calories, chemical additives, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats, and low in nutrients. As the saying goes, ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ You can’t expect to build a healthy, disease-fighting body on the typical modern processed diet.
The body needs nutrients and energy in order to be able to detoxify. There is a lot to talk about here, and there is no single diet that fits all, but the essential elements of a health anti-cancer diet are:
Avoid processed foods
These are ‘foods’ with labels that read like a chemistry experiment, with sugars, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and preservatives. My general rule of thumb is to avoid most foods that come in a packet or tin. That’s easier on the environment too as it greatly reduces waste. Buy from farmers markets and organic stores if possible. Even better, grow your own vegetables, herbs and fruit and eat them fresh, tree-ripened and in-season.
Avoid or minimize gluten-containing foods, especially wheat.
These aggravate the immune system, cause inflammation in the intestines, damage the gut flora and cause blood sugar and insulin spikes. This includes breads, cookies, cakes, granola/muesli, pasta and couscous.
Cut out or minimize dairy products.
About 75% of the world’s adult population cannot digest dairy products — they are lactose intolerant. Dairy is mucous-forming and causes irritable bowel syndrome and allergies in many people. It also aggravates the immune system, keeping it in a state of high alert. Raw, unpasteurized dairy is preferable, and goat and sheep dairy is easier to digest for most people with lactose intolerance.
Cowspiracy is an eye-opening and revealing film about the meat, dairy and fishing industries that I recommend you should watch.
Reduce or eliminate animal products altogether.
I know this one is difficult for many people accustomed to meat, but there is a growing body of research showing that a diet high in meat promotes cancer growth.
Two primary reasons for this are that the amino acid, methionine, which is high in red meat, fish, dairy and eggs is needed by cancer cells. In addition, animal products contain the growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is another cancer growth promoter. Methionine restriction is really a biggie when it comes to fighting cancer. Have a look at this video:
There are many reasons why a plant-based diet, low in animal products is healthier and beneficial for healing from cancer. Another benefit of cutting out or reducing animal products is to downregulate the cell growth and proliferation-promoting enzyme TOR (Target Of Rapamycin). This enzyme is stimulated by cow’s dairy in particular:
Eat an organic plant-based diet of predominantly vegetables and fruits.
This follows from the last point and also from the fact that fruits and vegetables contain cancer fighting compounds such as sulforaphanes in broccoli, anthocyanins in berries, eggplant and plums, and salvestrols in organic berries, apples, grapes, avocados, broccoli and olives. Organic produce is not only free of harmful pesticides, it is generally higher in beneficial vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Dr Joel Fuhrman, author of the book “Eat to Live”, has coined a great acronym for a healthy cancer-fighting diet, and that is G-BOMBS, which stands for Greens, Berries, Onions (also garlic, shallots, leaks and scallions), Mushrooms (of all kinds), Beans (and lentils) and Seeds (and nuts).
The key to being healthy on a vegan diet is to supplement with vitamin B12 and to get Omega 3 (flaxseeds and chia seeds are the best vegetarian sources) and avoid high omega 6 vegetable oils like sunflower, soybean, corn and wheatgerm oil.
The best way to cook vegetables and preserve their nutrients is lightly steamed or sautéed in a little coconut oil or water. Eat a combination of lightly cooked vegetables and raw salads.
For more about the importance of organic foods and which non-organic foods you definitely should avoid, read my page on “The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen Fruits & Veges.”
Also see my Organic Food page where I give 13 reasons you should switch to an organic diet.
Include plenty of cancer-fighting herbs and spices in your diet.
Some of the top cancer-fighting herbs and spices are turmeric (curcumin), ginger, garlic, oregano, cayenne pepper, black pepper, rosemary and parsley. Organic and fresh is best.
Eat healthy fermented foods every day.
Most traditional cultures eat some kind of healthy fermented foods, which support their gut flora, but many modern food preservation methods kill the helpful bacteria.
Yoghurt is the most popular probiotic food now, but most commercial yoghurts contain very few bacteria and are given their consistency using thickening agents rather than by fermentation. Plus most are loaded with sugar, flavours, coloring and preservatives. So always read the labels and look for plain yoghurt that is simply milk plus bacterial cultures. Fortunately, real, healthy yoghurt is becoming more common in supermarkets now.
Some fermented cheeses like cheddar, gouda, parmesan, Swiss, cottage cheese, and others contain some bacteria, but mozzarella and processed cheeses don’t. However, as I mentioned in point three above, I recommend avoiding dairy altogether.
Some of the best probiotic foods and drinks are sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto, miso, tempeh (make sure the last three come from organic, non-GMO soy) and kombucha tea.
Replace simple carbohydrates with more complex carbohydrates and starchy vegetables.
Bread, pastries, cakes, cookies, pasta and white rice all convert to sugar quickly, leading to blood sugar and insulin spikes, which feed cancer.
Instead, fill up on root vegetables like pumpkin, squash, carrots, parsnip, turnips, beets (beetroot), Jerusalem artichokes, yacon and sweet potatoes (I usually only eat sweet potatoes, which are a healthier alternative to white potatoes). Brown, black, red and wild rice are better and tastier alternatives to white rice, but don’t go overboard on them.
Keep fried foods out or minimize them.
Deep frying is about the most unhealthy way to cook. Quick stir-fries can be a good way to cook vegetables, but be careful what oil you use to cook in. Apart from olive oil, vegetable oils are a relatively recent addition to our diet and they are unhealthy as they upset the balance of omega 3 to omega 6 and 9 oils.
The best oil to cook with is none at all; water is better. Even the recent health fad, coconut oil, should only be used in moderation – it can handle the heat and it has some beneficial properties, but it is a saturated fat that increases both HDL (‘good’) and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Unheated, raw extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil, however, are excellent for health.
Go easy on the salt and eat more potassium-rich foods.
Even relatively healthy, unrefined salts like Himalayan pink salt and Celtic sea salt are predominantly sodium, so don’t use salt as your mineral source. Most people have far too much sodium in their diet and need more potassium instead. Some of the best sources of potassium include beet greens, Lima beans, Swiss chard, sweet potato, spinach, avocado, pinto beans and lentils, banana and papaya.
Avoid foods that you have suspected intolerances to.
Some people manifest obvious allergies to certain foods, but sometimes reactions can be more subtle and delayed for up to 48 hours. These food intolerances (as opposed to true allergies) may cause mild diarrhoea, stomach cramps, a cough or chest congestion, itching, mild headaches, fatigue or other symptoms. These intolerances are stressing our immune systems, and causing inflammation and unstable blood sugar and insulin levels.
Food specific immunoglobin (IgG and IgA) antibody bloods tests are popular these days, but they are only indicators of antigen exposure and are not directly indicative of allergic disease. They are usually misinterpreted as indicating a food intolerance whereas in fact they can simply be indicating which foods you have been eating a lot of. The IgE antibody test is a legitimate test for true food allergies, but this is only relevant for those with more obvious or severe reactions.
The best approach if you have symptoms of suspected food intolerances is to do an elimination diet. Eliminate all the foods that may be causing your symptoms and then once the symptoms clear up you can re-introduce the foods one at a time. If the symptoms return, then you know that it is the last food you added to your diet that is the culprit.
There are eight food groups that account for 90% of all allergic reactions: Eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. If you start by eliminating all of these, there is a good chance that you have it covered.
Sit down, relax and chew your food thoroughly and mindfully.
Take your time to enjoy and savour your food and to chew it well. Try to schedule plenty of time for eating and don’t eat your lunch while walking or driving. It is also a good idea to stay sitting and relax for 5 or 10 minutes after eating rather than rushing into activities. Maybe one of the big reasons why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy is because traditionally they sit down for a long lunch with family or friends.
Digestion is one of the greatest energy consuming processes in the body. By chewing the food into tiny particles it not only makes it much easier to digest, it also stimulates the release of digestive enzymes. You should chew soft foods like fruit 5–10 times and dense foods up to 30 times before swallowing.
Be mindful and grateful as you eat — think about all the processes that got that food to your plate from the farmer sowing the seed to the rain and sunshine that nourished the plant to the people who transported it to where you bought it. Savour all the different flavours. Don’t watch TV, browse the Web or read while eating.
Avoid drinking during mealtime.
Beverages or water dilute the stomach acid and enzymes and slow down digestion. It is fine to sip small amounts of water while eating, but avoid drinking large quantities at least 15–30 minutes before and one hour after meals.
Preferably sip warm water rather than cold, and especially avoid ice, as warm water is much easier on digestion. You can also add a little bit of apple cider vinegar or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice into the water to aid absorption.
I hope you find these guidelines helpful and that you start to apply them to improve your diet. Maybe you are already eating very healthfully and following many of these principles. However, if you are eating the so-called Standard American Diet (SAD), then making the changes I suggest will be a huge step up in healthy eating.
Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Perhaps you have a suggestion or think that I have left something out that you think I should include.