Some time ago I wrote a series of online blog columns about dietary changes I was researching (and implementing) for myself based on the idea that I’d like to lower my chances of getting cancer and perhaps prevent it, and not wait until after the fact.
Such a diet would, of course, have the side benefit of helping prevent other diseases also, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The online article series also appeared in a shorter version in our print magazines and in the online Huffington Post Canada. The articles drew a larger-than-usual response from readers: many of you wrote to me or called to say how useful the information was, and that you were passing it on to co-workers, friends and relatives.
So, I thought readers would appreciate a quick update on what I’m up to these days and how the whole dietary change thing is working. I also think this will be useful for anyone looking for some “quick tips” on getting started, or what to incorporate into their routine.
Okay, here goes…
One thing I’ve noticed is something I fully expected: that with my busy life I wouldn’t have time to make complicated recipes, like some of the fancier “raw food” recipes for which I have books and instructions. Believe me, I fully intend to do this, but my priority was always to do the easy things first, and get started with a healthy diet: and I have achieved that; in fact, I got to upwards of 80 per cent raw easily. (It’s crucial to eat as much raw food as possible, as cooking destroys much of the nutrition in living fruits and vegetables.)
Perhaps the easiest way to tell you how I’m doing is to tell you what I eat and drink now on a typical day.
BREAKFAST: I eat a very high-quality granola cereal loaded with fruits and nuts from the healthy cereals aisle in my local supermarket (which is a Metro, by the way). I have this with almond milk, not milk or soy (which are both very unhealthy, despite what we’ve been told).
Note that I don’t feel it necessary to buy my granola at an actual health food store, where it’s normally pricey. When I find the time on certain weekends, I pour a box of the granola cereal into a big container and stir in other ingredients of my own choice like chia seeds and Maca. (A great source for powdered “super foods” in pure organic form is a company called Navitas Naturals: you can order from their website www.navitasnaturals.com or ask your local health food store to carry the line if they don’t already.)
I usually have one or two cups of black coffee in the morning: I’ve read mixed reports some of which say coffee is good for you and some say bad, but it only seems to be bad if you drink more than one or two cups daily. I try to source Fair Trade coffee, too. And here’s a tip: If you take cream or sugar with your coffee, try going for 10 days drinking it black as I did years ago. You’ll never go back! (I know you’ve all heard that joke.)
I usually also have a banana, which I always buy organic (at Metro the organic bananas are almost the same price as the chemically-treated ones.) I’ve read lots about the many benefits of bananas, such as potassium. I vary this with apples, which also contain lots of goodness (like we were told as kids).
In the morning I take three supplements in capsule form: a wild salmon fish oil capsule; an acidophilus capsule (to maintain intestinal flora); and, a teaspoon of a liquid Vitamin B complex.
A couple of times a week I boil an egg and eat it. I buy non-factory farm eggs at the farmers market. (You just don’t want to know about the lives of egg-laying hens in those awful industrial places. Stop supporting it!)
Note that I do not eat dairy. This is very important to cut out of your life. The only exception is the occasional piece of cheese that I might eat when out or at a friend’s place, as a treat. But it’s an insignificant amount overall.
LUNCH: For lunch my “default” is a green smoothie. I make this in a small single-shot blender (the Magic Bullet). This is a quick and easy meal that leaves me just one cup to rinse.
The base of my green smoothie varies, and can be almond milk or just plain water, but I usually use a really dark juice, something containing blueberries and pomegranates and that kind of thing. (And not the crappy reconstituted variety that contains lots of added sugar/fructose and tastes like Kool-Aid! I buy the best dense berry juice I can find.) To this I add fruit-flavored Vega powder (the one sold in big containers that contains a complete nutrient complex, not the version sold in pouches that’s a lighter smoothie). To this I add a small handful of frozen wild berries that I store in my freezer. I also add a small dollop of organic honey for taste. (It’s important to source your honey from good sources: large-scale commercial bee-keeping operations have created “colony collapse” among the pollinators needed for most of the world’s crops. Support small local producers where you can.)
I could stop there, and it would taste great, and be very healthy, but I usually add a couple more things. First is a small scoop of powdered hemp protein. In addition to wanting the protein, hemp has emerged as a powerful cancer-fighting plant, about which I’ve seen several mind-blowing documentaries. (I know. I know. Hemp and “mind-blowing” probably shouldn’t appear in the same sentence.) Hemp oil has been proven to cure cancer (I’m not making this up) and has been neglected by the large pharmaceutical companies because they can’t patent it. (Don’t believe me? Visit this website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ypbNYYMPXg and this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0psJhQHk_GI where you can watch “Run From the Cure — The Rick Simpson Story” for free.)
I also like to throw a scoop of Greens Plus in there, because it’s loaded with chlorophyl and concentrated nutrients from plants. I warn you, this makes the smoothie taste “not so good” (but it doesn’t taste that bad, either). I’ve “gotten over” the idea, by the way, that our food always has to be some form of “entertainment.” Suck it up, people! Our ancient ancestors survived and thrived on all sorts of meals that sustained them, and didn’t expect everything that passed their lips to taste like candy.
(The sadness of the situation in North America was brought home for me recently on a vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia. I stayed with my two teenage sons at a timeshare vacation where I could prepare many of our meals. I did a big shopping trip at the start once we arrived and was shocked throughout the week to discover how many foods in the United States are sweetened. And noticeably so! I don’t mean obvious things like pastries and such: I mean darn near everything! For instance, one brand of Greek salad dressing I enjoy in Canada tasted like it had heaps and heaps of sugar added to it in the American version — and it probably did! When you think that cancer thrives on sugar, it’s no surprise that cancer rates are spiking in the USA.)
I sometimes have one of these shakes in the morning along with the granola, or sometimes I have it for dinner if I’m in a rush and don’t want to make a more complicated meal for myself. But I’m not “religious” about the shakes: I often go to a cafeteria near where I live and work that makes really great homemade soups and things like vegetarian chili. I often eat things like that for variety.
Here are some related tips: Of the three meals I eat each day I try ensure only one of them is big. So, if I have a big lunch, I tend to go easy on dinner. If I eat a light lunch, I might “treat” myself to a more complicated dinner. This has allowed me to shed weight and become more energetic, and mealtime is not a big ordeal when I’m in a hurry. Other tips: I don’t eat bread (it literally never enters my house). You want to lose weight? Stop eating bread! Those kinds of carbs get converted straight into sugar in your blood, that gets stored as fat. (And belly fat is very dangerous for cancer, especially in men.) I also don’t eat cakes or pastries or bagels and those kinds of things.
And I don’t eat pasta, either. When I first cut these things out, I got cravings, because those kinds of carbs release serotonin and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Like a heroin addict going through withdrawal, kicking the habit of eating those kinds of carbs was the most difficult part of adopting my new routine. But the cravings fall away pretty quickly, and then the thought of eating those starchy, fat-forming products went away. I actually get cravings these days for things that are healthy.
DINNER: Okay, you must think I’m some kind of masochist, having described a pretty Spartan diet, right? Well, dinner is where I kind of “reward” myself in the culinary department.
So, what’s the key to dinner?
Simplicity. I can’t keep track of hundred different things I’m “supposed” to eat. I don’t count calories or try to carefully monitor the nutritional mix of it all.
So for me, the simplest solution is to build dinner around salads. Many North Americans grew up in families where the answer to “What are we having for dinner?” was often a meat-based answer, like, “We’re having meat loaf with [fill in the blank]” or “We’re having pot roast…” or “We’re having barbeque chicken…” etc. And this was supported by those misleading “food pyramids” we were shown in school and that the government (shamefully) still promotes.
It’s a little mental trick you have to do, reprogramming your mind to not build dinner around meat. Instead, I always just ask myself, “What kind of salad am I making tonight?” and from there some wonderful answers flow.
I’ve learned to make a variety of salads, and I’m always struck by how easy dinner is. Why? Because I don’t have to actually cook anything! There are no pots to clean, either. Or time wasted standing around the stove, waiting for things to heat up, or to bake. I’m pretty much ready to give away my microwave, which I use maybe once a month.
My favorite salads are Greek village salad (that I make with tomatoes, cucumber and red onion and some goat feta cheese) and another that I make with avocados, cucumber, tomato and hulled sunflower seeds (usually with balsamic vinegar.
I mix things up now and again with soups and, when I feel like heating something, I make stir fry. It’s quick and easy, without too much to clean up. When I feel a bit rushed or lazy, I buy those packages of flash frozen stir fry veggies at the supermarket.
But more often than not it’s salad, and those are usually filling enough that I don’t really feel the need for much else. (Besides the occasional glass of red wine, natch!) As an aside, avocados will heal a damaged liver in just a couple of weeks. They’re almost a miracle vegetable. And contrary to the myth that their “fattening” they contain the kinds of health fats your body needs.
Remember, the liver is the body’s filter and removes toxins. If you’re concerned about pollution in the environment, and in the foods you eat, look after your liver. Drink in moderation and eat avocados!
I want to wrap this up but can’t do so without talking a bit about meat, a substance with which I now have a complicated relationship.
The documentary Forks Over Knives makes a very convincing case that meat causes cancer. I won’t try to convince you of this myself: just watch the documentary and you’ll be astounded at what these two doctors found out over lifetime careers studying the subject. (And it’s not a gory movie showing suffering animals, by the way, in case you were going to let that stop you. Though I think everyone should watch Food Inc.)
Now I have friends who are vegan, and I agree with that philosophy, but I’m not quite “there” yet and still want and enjoy meat… sometimes.
Fact is, I’ve cut way way down on it, and am being pretty good, for an omnivore. I eat canned tuna sometimes, fully aware that the tuna industry is not sustainable, but it’s a “least bad” option at times.
I’m sourcing more and more of my meat from non-factory operations, where the animal was raised humanely and lived a proper animal life on a farm. I plan to do more of that.
I don’t eat fast food hamburgers anymore, because I know way too much about the “back end” of these industrial operations, which was almost designed to be cruel to animals. I’m especially careful about pork and bacon. The way pigs (which are more intelligent than most dogs) are raised in gestation crates in hog barns and they way they’re transported and slaughtered is so uniquely evil that I’ve even joined a local group called Toronto Pig Save to protest these practices.
From a cancer prevention perspective, I don’t need moral arguments to be concerned about meat. My current project is to eat more fish and less of the stuff that walks on four legs.
One final bit of advice, from the file of “keeping things simple”: “avoid white,” by which is meant, avoid the starchy white products like white rice, white bread made from refined white flour. Avoid white pasta and rice, too.
It’s okay to eat whole grain pastas and breads, and long-grain brown rice, although for my own reasons I eat very little of those. Potatoes are to be avoided; yams are fine.
In case you think I don’t enjoy my life, I do have another rule, which is that when I’m eating in a restaurant (which I don’t do as much anymore) I do relax the rules. I’m so good the rest of the time, it’s not going to harm me to enjoy some variety that doesn’t adhere to the above plan.
So there you go, that’s what I’m doing nutrition-wise, and I’m hitting the gym three or four times a week and playing tennis and cycling as often as I can.
If you take nothing else away with you from this little article, let it be this: I have switched over to this kind of diet and it’s very easy to do, and I feel great!
You can too! Get started now; don’t put it off!