Stupid cancer! Both the cancer and the treatment can rough on your body, but making the right food choices during and after treatment can strengthen you from the inside out, making all the difference. The goal? To nourish and fortify your body, avoid the stuff that weakens the immune system, all while making sure the food is tasty (even when your taste buds get wonky). In practical terms… Move towards a whole foods-based diet and find what works for you! The first step is to start reading every ingredient list to make sure that the foods you eat are really made of… actual food! Dump artificial ingredients, especially artificial sweeteners and preservatives, many of which are linked to cancer, and find some go-to pantry staples with “clean” ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you recognize each of the ingredients as real food, or do they sound more like a weird science experiment.
Once you get that down, be sure to clue in the people in your support circle, so they know to show up with foods that heal. For my own clients affected by cancer, I recommend the cookbooks “The Cancer Fighting Kitchen” and “One Bite at a Time” by Rebecca Katz for tons of delicious and super nutritious recipes that boost the immune system, as well as tips and recipes for treatment-specific symptoms, like dry mouth and nausea. A must have!
You’re too young and fabulous to eat junk that can keep you from radiant health, so here are my three main “Golden Rules” of healing with whole foods:
Golden Rule #1: Put Good Things In/Keep Bad Stuff OutDump processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors and preservatives as best you can, since these things stress the body. Yes, cakes, cookies and muffins do taste good, but they weak the immune system, and a strong immune system is everything!Veg Out! Eat tons of non-starchy and brightly colored veggies, especially those in the cruciferous vegetable family – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, and watercress, all of which are potent cancer fighters. Leafy greens, winter squash, and other brightly colored vegetables are great choices too – be sure to eat some of these “super” veggies daily. Cooked veggies are easier to digest than raw, so you may opt for steamed, lightly sautéed or roasted veggies. Buy organic if possible, or refer to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” list for information on which fruits and veggies have the highest and lowest pesticide residues. Reduce or cut out dairy foods.If you do eat eggs, poultry, beef or other animal foods, be sure they’re organic. Conventionally raised animals are exposed to more synthetic hormones and toxins, so it’s best to steer clear and choose organic, free-range poultry and eggs, and organic grass-fed beef.Healthy fats are important in keeping cell membranes fluid and strong. Avocados, seeds and nuts – particularly walnuts, pine nuts and Brazil nuts – contain super healthy fats, as do “fatty” fish. Be sure that the fish you select are low contaminant fish, usually smaller in size and lower on the food chain, like anchovies, sardines, wild salmon and black cod. Ask your healthcare provider before supplementing with essential fatty acids, like omega-3s.
Golden Rule #2: Eat To Boost Your Immune System, Your Inner WarriorGreen and black tea fight inflammation and can boost the immune system, so brew yourself a nice cup and enjoy. Drinking tea on an empty stomach can make some people nauseous, so enjoy that cuppa with meals or snacks if you’re struggling with nausea.Turmeric is a bright yellow spice with incredible healing properties, which gets a boost when used in combination with black pepper. For yum factor, try combining it with cumin and cinnamon. Many herbs, like oregano, chives and garlic, provide health benefits, so season away! Herbs and spices are especially helpful in making food more appealing when your appetite wanes, and fresh ginger is great for reducing nausea.Cruciferous veggies pack a nutritional punch, and they also help your body detoxify properly, which helps the immune system. The same goes for berries, (organic) citrus zest, pomegranate, and dark leafy greens.
Golden Rule #3: Protect Your Gut – That’s Where Most of Our Immune System LivesEliminate constipation! It’s important to have daily bowel movements, so be sure to eat enough fiber and drink plenty of water. Great sources of fiber include brown rice, vegetables, berries, apples, steel cut oats, beans, lentils and nuts. Add flax seed or chia seeds, if necessary to stay regular.Friendly flora! Cancer treatments take a toll on the good bacteria that lives in the gut and that can weaken your immune system. Talk to your healthcare provider about using a high quality, high potency probiotic (good bacteria) supplement. This can reduce inflammation, boost your immune system, and protect you from treatment-related tummy troubles.
After you beat that stupid cancer, find yourself a great registered dietitian or certified nutritionist specializing in Integrative Medicine who can help you rebuild your digestive tract, detoxify and strengthen your entire body, so you can stay healthy and cancer-free for life. Check out www.IntegrativeRD.com to find an expert in your area.
Robin Foroutan, MS, RD, HHC is an Integrative Medicine Nutritionist, registered dietitian, writer and health coach with private practices in New York City and Morristown, NJ. She is also a blogger with Good Greens, a gluten-free protein bar. Click here for more information on healing with whole foods.
Matthew Zachary was a 21-year old college senior and concert pianist en route to film school when he lost use of his left hand. He was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer, told he'd likely never perform again and given a 50/50 chance of surviving. Sixteen years later, Matthew's survivorship and dedication to "get busy living" has inspired countless thousands. Today, he is an award-winning recording artist and accredited thought-leader in digital health, social media, youth culture and nonprofit enterprise.
A founding member of the original Google Health Advisory Council, he launched Stupid Cancer in 2007. The organization formed to be a social bullhorn to raise awareness of his own generation of young adults, a largely unknown group in the war on cancer, accounting for 72,000 new diagnosis each year. This age group also represents a population that has not seen any improvements in survival rates and quality of life when compared to other age groups.
As CEO of Stupid Cancer, Matthew has built an extraordinary team of staff members and volunteers who have helped launch a social movement, uniting several industries to address the underserved needs of young adults affected by cancer. He has also flipped the nonprofit business model on its ear by focusing on innovation, enterprise strategies, community wealth and brand partnerships. These efforts empower and retain the organization's massive following through award-winning click-and-mortar programs and services.
Matthew has a BA in Music, Computer Science and Sociology from Binghamton University and currently lives with his wife and twins in Brooklyn, NY.