As I start week seven of what I’m calling the “cancer-free lifestyle” there’s quite a bit to report, but don’t worry — it’s mostly about how simple and straightforward it is to make small changes in your diet and habits that have an enormous impact on health.
As an aside, I’m using the term “cancer-free lifestyle” as short-hand for healthy living, to have more impact than just “healthy living” which everyone says they’d like to do more of. I think everyone has a (justified) deep-seated fear of cancer, and I believe that a bit of fear is usually necessary to get us off the fence and stop procrastinating about eating as we should. It’s also worth noting that the word “cancer” is itself short-hand for a phenomenon that’s naturally occurring in the body — a topic to which I will return in a later online article. The things we eat to be cancer-free are also, of course, mostly the same things we would eat to be free of diabetes or heart disease.
Every one of us typically has about 750,000 cancer cells in our bodies at any given time, being kept in check by killer blood cells constantly absorbing and destroying them. As long as our immune systems are strong, we’ve little to fear. (And while 750,000 sounds like a lot, compared to the billions of healthy cells in our bodies, it’s actually a very tiny number.) The word “cancer” more generally describes the tumors that occur when cancer takes root somewhere in the body: mutated cells multiply out of control and the body wraps these cells with healthy tissue to insulate the cancerous cells as best it can from the rest of the body (while it figures out what to do).
Anyway, on to this week’s changes, which started with the unexpectedly quick arrival mid-week of my Vitamix blender, which I hadn’t expected for several more days. I had bought, as mentioned in an earlier post, a factory-reconditioned model for $100 less that comes with the same seven-year warranty as new. This offset the $100 extra I spent to acquire both the “wet” and “dry” processing containers, as I intend to blend or grind dry cereal and nut-type foods as well as wet things like veggies and fruit for smoothies.
I could hardly wait until the weekend to go shopping for fresh ingredients to blend into various concoctions. In fact I didn’t wait! Mid-week I poured some water (and the tail end of a small container of juice) into the wet Vitamix container and chopped up some carrots, celery, parsley and other vegetables that were at the point of needing to be used up soon. I really didn’t need to chop as much as I did because the Vitamix liquefied everything effectively. I could have kept the machine running longer and made it very liquid, but chose with my first vegetable smoothie to settle on a coarser texture. It tasted great, and I’ll play with various spices and combinations of things to come up with even better tasting mixes.
I’m continuing with Vega powder for my morning smoothie, but have started mixing it in the Vitamix with things like apples or melon. As I suspected, one can easily toss in beneficial fibre (and other) supplements and notice even notice they’re in there. (This is a great way to get extra nutrition into kids.) A favorite is the Organic “Linusprout” supplement (sprouted milled flax seed powder).
On the weekend I had a joyous shopping experience at a market that’s only open on Saturdays in Toronto and that I hope has its equivalents in other cities. It’s called the Evergreen Brickworks — part of a site restoration project on Bayview Avenue (near Pottery Road) where a market, craft rooms, an interpretative centre, etc. have been installed inside and around the buildings of a former brick factory and clay pit. This place comes into its glory in the spring when the farmer’s market opens up, but even in the off season I was impressed and surprised by the number of indoor merchants offering all manner of organic and natural foods, and at quite reasonable prices.
I filled a reusable cloth shopping bag with the following items (some of which are not easy to come by elsewhere):
• Chia seeds (imported directly by the vendor — called “horizontal trade”) from Mexico;
• Hulled hemp hearts (grown organically and locally);
• Raw dry cacao beans (pronounced “ka-kow” these are the raw material of chocolate and are an omega super food, hundreds of times more potent than many other omega-rich foods.) The beans were horizontal-imported direct from the Lacandon forest in the Chiapas area of Mexico. (It’s cool just learning this stuff!);
• Natural organic chocolate (made from the same cacao beans) — one a spicy flavor containing five different kinds of chili, the other a natural vanilla;
• Locally-produced organic soy in three different flavors (for adding to stir fry in place of meat);
• Free-range eggs (truly free, where the chickens get to run around);
• A package of stewing beef from a natural meats producer (grass fed, animal gets to walk around in the sun and rain, no unnecessary antibiotics or growth hormones, etc.);
• Cheese made from water buffalo and some sheep’s milk feta. (I’m lactose intolerant and although I’m totally off dairy, I want to indulge in a slice of cheese now and again, and have feta for my Greek salads.)
It’s worth noting that each of the above purchases was made from vendors at stalls and it was a real pleasure talking to them about how they grow or otherwise produce their wares. It was a more social and “human” experience than shopping under the fluorescent lights of a conventional and impersonal supermarket. Some of the vendors suggested I try this or that item that I then bought in small quantity, the vendors inviting me to return next week to buy more or less of whatever agrees with me.
It was all so… cool! (And there were live musicians performing, which gave the place a kind of folksy vibe, too.)
Since the farmer’s market isn’t open yet I headed next to Toronto’s only Whole Foods supermarket (in Yorkville, where else?) to buy produce and a few more exotic goodies. Visiting a Whole Foods for the first time is a mind-blowing experience! I have been to Whole Foods in the United States before, so it wasn’t totally strange to me, but in this instance I was looking at everything through new (health-aware) eyes and greatly appreciated what was on offer.
Finally, there was the organic kale, beets and cilantro that wasn’t available in the small organic section of my local Metro supermarket. (All of these have found their way into my vegetable smoothies, and the beets became a wonderful beet salad made with a “turning slicer” I bought at Health Service Centre Inc. on Bloor Street West.) Kale, beets and cilantro are incredible health foods but difficult to consume enough of without making smoothies, so I strongly recommend buying a Vitamix or similar blender/juicer. (Note that if you already own a Cuisinart, you can get started with juicing right away and defer buying a blender until you’re in the habit.)
The Whole Foods walk-through was a “through the looking glass” experience: imagine a regular-looking supermarket where everything is organic or natural, and tons of merchandise is from recycled. Imagine a store whose owners have clearly sat down over the years and asked themselves, “How can we make every single item in this store the healthiest and most environmentally protective it can be?”
I’m sure that the critics will find fault, and I know Michael Pullen discovers various shortcomings in his excellent book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I will report some of the critiques of Whole Foods in this space another time, but, really, this place is just so vastly superior to any regular supermarket it’s mind blowing. And while I will always choose to buy from farmer’s markets and individual vendors such as the ones at the Evergreen Brickworks, when I need certain items, more choice and at least some convenience, I’ll be headed to Whole Foods. (Are you listening Loblaws? Metro? This is part of a major trend and you better get with it! Walmart isn’t the only “death star” to your business spinning around out there. Expand your organics sections in a big way soon, please!)
At Whole Foods I also managed to pick up a very interesting and harder-to-find item: that’s a bag of raw Maca (in powdered form). This is called by some the “Inca superfood”). The Maca was recommended by a yoga teacher friend of mine whose daughter lives in Peru. The brand I bought is from Navitas Naturals which harvests it from the Junin Plateau of the Peruvian Andes. (Ya gotta just love buying stuff like this!) The label explains that for centuries Maca has been used for increasing stamina, libido and to combat fatigue. Maca is a nutrient-dense whole food packed with vitamins, plant sterols as well as essential minerals, fatty and amino acids. It’s expensive, but one bag lasts a long time as you add small amounts to your smoothies and cereal concoctions. (I hope to find a horizontal-trade source eventually.)
I mixed and “powderized” the Maca, hemp hearts and raw cacao beans in the dry container of my blender, then mixed that into the large jar of homemade granola-type cereal I described in an earlier article, thus making that cereal even more of a superfood than it already was. (And due to the cacao beans it now has a slightly chocolate taste.)
Here are some interesting end-notes to this week’s online column:
1. I’ve cut back on the size of the fruit smoothies I serve myself for breakfast and the veggie ones I pour for lunch, as well as the bowl of homemade cereal I normally douse with a bit of almond milk. I’ve found that this “nutrient-dense” food leaves me feeling full for hours. I have trouble consuming more than about an 8 oz smoothie serving, and I use only one small scoop of granola-type cereal, not the two I initially thought I needed.
2. There’s a biological reason for this (see below), related to why I no longer crave carbohydrates of the type I used to eat all the time. I’m simply not interested in the pasta or bread that I used to eat lots of, often with butter or cheese or creamy sauces. I don’t even eat potato chips anymore, although when I feel like a cheesy snack there are some organic baked cheese puff kind of things I sometimes enjoy (and that are often on sale, I’ve noticed, probably because they don’t fly off the shelves like Doritos…). And I can’t even eat more than half a small bag of those.
3. Akin to this, I no longer patronize fast food restaurants, and even avoid corporate restaurant chains of any kind. I prefer to give my money to family-run or small-scale businesses, and I find their food is better for the most part anyway. (There’s a casual cafeteria-style place around the corner I sometimes go to for lunch that’s run by some Tibetans that has great food cheap; you’d swear their vegetarian chili had meat.)
4. The reason for all of the above is that my metabolism is changing; I’m slimming down because my body is finally getting the nutrition it’s been craving for years, instead of empty calories from starchy and fatty prepared foods (not to mention fast food). My guess is that my immune system is getting a boost from the fresh and raw superfoods. Without even planning to do so, I realized on the weekend that my diet is now at least 70 per cent raw. I’m getting a lot of vitamins and minerals from the smoothies and homemade cereal concoctions, plus the salads I usually have for dinner along with the occasional serving of non-factory farm meat.
A note about next week: I’m scheduled for a physical with my family doctor this week, and will be tested for a range of indicators of my overall health. It’ll be interesting to compare this six months and a year from now, in terms of things like blood pressure, cholesterol and so on. I bought some Ph test paper from my local health food store and will report on the testing I’ve started on my body’s level of alkalinity (versus acidic, which is very cancer-friendly). Just so you know, my first test showed my Ph at 6.2 to 6.4, which is optimal, but I need to test every day and come up with an average.
In a future blog I’m also going to write about the health benefits of tea (especially herbal teas), which I now drink in the afternoon instead of coffee (which I only have early in the morning). If you want to get a jump on what I’m going to say, I recommend you watch a fascinating movie that may be available at your local video store. (In my case, I watched it on my $8-per-month Netflix, the best value in entertainment.) The movie is entitled “All in This Tea” and is a wonderful documentary about the adventures of David Lee Hoffman — a tea importer who traveled around the China years ago discovering the world’s best teas in provinces such as Fujian, Anhui, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hunan, Yunnan and Guangxi. He almost single-handedly resurrected the industry of artisanal and rare tea growing and making that was being obliterated by state-run factories using inferior chemically-sprayed teas. Ultimately he sold his business (Silk Road Tea) and I’ll be reporting how you can find or direct-order this marvelous tea today from the new owners who still buy their tea in the way Hoffman pioneered.
A listing and description of the film can be found here: