This week I went to see a nutritionist with expertise in cancer-fighting diets.
I have to admit, I was skeptical. The last time I encountered a nutritionist/dietician, back in high school, the information she presented was so basic — pretty much common sense — that I had difficulty maintaining consciousness during her talk. So when my integrative medicine physician at the cancer center where I go for treatment recommended consultation with a nutritionist, I wasn’t exactly eager to comply. It has been my experience, reading around on nutrition and diet, that everybody has their own point of view. Nutritional opinions have become sort of like a political party — and we all know how discussions of politics go in polite society.
But I’m a good patient, so I made the appointment.
I was pleasantly surprised. I found the nutritionist’s approach refreshing and perceptive. Rather than rattle off an agenda for me, she spent the better part of the first hour sitting back and finding out how I eat and why. And when I mentioned that I had recently read The China Study and had been convinced by its arguments for a plant-based diet, she simply nodded and smiled. If you aren’t familiar with this study (also a book), it’s the largest and most comprehensive study of nutrition and human health ever conducted, a joint project of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine.
It’s called the China Study, not surprisingly, because it was conducted in China. The 20-year study analyzed death rates from 48 forms of cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as diet and bloodwork, among 6,500 people. The study was made possible by the fact that the Chinese counties involved were populated by genetically similar people who tended to live in the same place for a long time, with few changes to their diets. For more on the China Study, click here.
The China Study found that the people who ate a vegan diet — avoiding animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates — escaped, reduced or reversed the development of chronic diseases, including cancer. I suggest you explore the China Study in some depth. I think its findings will intrigue you.
But back to my trip to the nutritionist. After I mentioned the China Study, I was expecting a debate on its merits. Instead, she calmly noted that she had read the China Study, too, and largely agreed with its findings. Over the years since the study was first published (2005), however, she has filled in some of the blurriness around its edges.
The experts behind the China Study weren’t clinical nutritionists, you see. They were, for the most part, biochemists and epidemiologists. To apply the study’s findings to a specific person’s diet requires some finesse — and my nutritionist has finesse in spades. This two-part blog post relates some of the advice she offered, all of which I found to be extremely valuable. Check back in a week for Part 2.
Adequate protein is a must for cancer patients
Since I altered my diet at the beginning of the year, I have been besieged by comments from other people about the lack of protein in a vegan diet. Most of these people know very little about veganism, yet they are convinced the diet is inferior when it comes to protein.
The nutritionist reassured me that you can get enough protein from a vegan diet, but you have to plan carefully. For example, after hearing that my lunch consists primarily (often only) of green juice or a green smoothie, she offered tips on how to bump up its protein content. Her first suggestion: hemp, a product of the cannabis plant (yes, that cannabis plant, but non-psychotropic varieties). (Not to worry, hemp won’t alter your mind.)
Most hemp-based foods start with the seeds, which can be eaten whole, ground, made into milk, sprouted, smoothed into butter, or steeped in teas. Hemp leaves can be eaten as well.
When it comes to protein, hemp is essentially “complete” — meaning it contains all 21 amino acids. It is also loaded with essential fatty acids, including the very important omega 3s. The nutritionist suggested that I add hemp milk or butter to my smoothies to boost their protein level, which is especially important during cancer treatment.
For protein, she also recommended nut butters such as almond and cashew. (Little known fact: Peanuts are not nuts, but legumes.)
Some grains, such as quinoa and millet, are high in protein and can be combined with fruit to create a tasty morning porridge. (I try to avoid eating much wheat because of concerns about its inflammatory nature.)
And, of course, beans (including soybeans and products, such as tofu, derived from them) are other good sources of protein.
In the interest of space, I will stop here. I hope this post has provided “food for thought” and that you will explore the China Study. Here’s one last tidbit for your to munch on: A short video of cancer thriver Kris Carr discussing how she turned to veganism (partly as a result of the China Study). Tune in next week for Part 2 of what I learned from my trip to the nutritionist.