Food for Mom During Cancer Treatment
7/25/13 — My mother is going through cancer treatment. She is a tough lady whom I deeply admire and my dad is a good, faithful man. But this has taken a major toll on my family.
I share this because over recent months, I have started looking into cancer and nutrition and I hope my findings may be helpful to others as well.
One of my healing books says “Patients who have higher nutritional status are not only more likely to fight off infections and tolerate [cancer] therapy and its side effects, they also have better odds of actually winning the battle” (Murray 688). So I wanted to know specifically: which foods help the body where cancer is involved? And what strengthens it during chemotherapy?
We all know the foods we shouldn’t be eating, so I didn’t delve into the no-nos. I think it’s more empowering and effective to focus on the affirmative side, so below I have briefly profiled the most healing dietary staples I could find. I added a few recipes in there too.
Quick disclaimer. I am not a doctor, just a concerned daughter. Please do not consider this expert advice. I am just sharing concepts and information that I have found interesting in my research.
A BROAD APPROACH:
In his book Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford says Chinese classics linked cancer with stagnation. The idea is that in the body, as well as in thoughts and emotions, qi (pronounced “chee,” which is your life force/energy) is not flowing in the healthiest way. There are a number of potential explanations for this, some internal, some external.
Pitchford recommends a broad approach to revitalize flow. On one hand, awareness practices (i.e. meditation, journaling and prayer) can help process suppressed thoughts, feelings and memories. On a more physical level, he says removing stagnation requires oxygenating the body. This makes sense, especially when you consider that cancer cells die in the presence of oxygen. Moderate exercise, acupuncture, deep breathing, taking certain herbs, and eating healthy foods are all methods of oxygenation.
The main dietary guideline is to ingest a higher ratio of vital, natural, alkalizing foods. In other words, eat fresh, local and organic — foods that are as close to “just off the vine” as possible. These items lack harmful chemicals, are considered more nutritious and have the most qi still intact. Their healing capabilities are unquantifiable. Antioxidants neutralize disease-promoting free radicals and phytonutrients perform extraordinary functions in the body that we are still continuing to comprehend.
TO BE MORE SPECIFIC:
Sprouts – contain chemicals that breakdown in the body and specifically destroy cancer cells. i.e.: mung, alfalfa, all grain sprouts, sunflower greens and garbanzos.
Algae – for example, seaweed and kelp. I know, it sounds weird. But seaweed helps with thyroid activity and oxidation (see preparation notes and picture below). Kelp can be taken in capsules or tablet form. It’s linked with reducing hardened masses in the body, and protecting women who take birth control pills from developing cancer. Both help protect against the after-effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Wheat grass – buy in powder-form, and mix it with water. The chlorophyll helps oxygenate tissues. It also contains a specific antioxidant, which is one of the best defenses against free radicals. Barley grass is good as well. Both help counteract the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
Spices – can stimulate qi and remove stagnation. I focus on: turmeric, dill, coriander, thyme, rosemary, allspice and fennel seeds, which can be made into a tea or chewed thoroughly to help soothe an upset stomach after chemotherapy or radiation.
Herbs – many are good. Astragalus root helps strengthen resistance to disease. Talk to an herbalist for a tailored regime.
Regarding animal products – eggs and whey protein have glutamine, an amino acid that helps prevent some chemo symptoms. Eggs from free range, grass fed hens (that actually live a natural lifestyle) are vastly more nutritious than their traditional counterparts. Also, goat’s milk and fresh fish with omega 3s are less disruptive on the body than other meats (specifically wild salmon, cod, anchovies, sardines, trout and herring).
Fruits – very cleansing. Especially organic apples! Also exceptional: mulberries, papaya, cranberries, cherries, dried figs, grapes and mangoes.
Vegetables – you basically can’t go wrong with veggies, especially organic ones. Here are the items that my research indicated are particularly helpful:
- Carrots. Beta carotene retards progress of cancer. Carrots also contain an essential oil that kills parasites and unhealthy intestinal bacteria.
- Mushrooms. High in germanium, which oxygenates the body. Shrooms neutralize toxic residues. Specifically useful kinds include shiitake, reishi and even common button mushrooms.
- Beets (roots and tops) – cleanse the liver and blood and help with constipation that often accompanies cancer.
- Onion and garlic – “One onion daily serves as protection against malignant cell growth and cooking does not destroy the effectiveness of quercetin” (Pitchford 378). Garlic is ideally taken raw (in relatively small amounts)
- Radishes, asparagus, potato (also thought to draw out toxins), tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers all have positive effects as well.
- The National Cancer Institute points to cruciferous vegetables for cancer prevention. For example, cabbage, turnips, kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Trying to eat more of these kinds of foods can help reduce toxic excesses that feed cancer and disease, and provide strength and balance during intense treatments.
A FEW RANDOM TIPS:
- We often overwhelm our bodies with too many different kinds of food in one meal. Pitchford suggests giving digestive organs a rest every once in a while. He recommends a few mono-diet meals during the week. In other words,consider some breakfasts or lunches made up of only fruit, or vegetables.
- More intense cleanses are an option, but especially during treatment, a balanced approach is wise.
- Drink tea. Green tea is linked with antioxidants and cancer fighting capabilities. There are other kinds worth considering too. My mother-in-law used to brew birch tea for a family member, and she says it helped significantly. Kombucha tea is also thought to have positive effects. For stimulating liver qi (efficient liver functioning is considered crucial when treating cancer), you can make a tea with lemon or lime peel. Just simmer either one for about 20 minutes.
- Consider a Chlorella supplement. It is a micro-algae that stimulates immunity. Spirulina is supposed to be exceptional as well. You can take it in supplement-form, or try spirulina pasta.
- For sweetness: stevia or raw, organic honey/maple syrup are best.
- Make fresh smoothies!
- I think a spiritual connection is the foundation of wellness and healing. I strongly believe in the power of prayer and meditation. For more in this department, I find Marianne Williamson’s books tremendously helpful and inspiring. My mom has felt uplifted by Louise Hay’s books and cds. Guided meditations can be a wonderful resource. My friend Michael Perkola offers some free recordings here. I really enjoy his approach. There are obviously tons of authors and angles, it’s well worth finding one that suits your style!
Finally, through my mother’s journey, I believe my whole family is becoming healthier, and more aware and faithful. Her challenge is uplifting us all. By sharing this, I hope to extend that positive momentum.
So here’s to happy and healthy eating, living and healing.
Burst of Vitality Salad
2 avocados, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 celery stalks, chopped
5 baby carrots, sliced
5 mushrooms (any variety), chopped
3/4 cup alfalfa sprouts, chopped
1 cup of greens, like spinach, coarsely chopped
1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed (or substitute kidney beans, aduki are ideal, they’re found in specialty/health food stores)
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat.
*Substitute any veggies that sound good. You may even swap spinach for seaweed! Also, this salad saves well. We like to make a big bowl, and gnaw at it through the week.
Super Healthy Green Smoothie
¾ cup water
1/3 cup frozen pineapple
½ cup kale
½ cup spinach
Blend and enjoy!
Fish & Veggies
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
½ large red onion, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 lb. fish filets (try one of the varieties mentioned above, i.e. trout or cod)
Olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425F.
Combine the tomato, cilantro, juice of 2 lemons, red onion, squash and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Toss well.
Each piece of fish will cook individually in a foil-wrapped packet with veggies. So, layer 3-4 sheets of tin foil (per piece of fish). Coat the top sheet with olive oil cooking spray, and lay a piece of fish on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Evenly divide the veggie mixture, so there is a pile of vegetables over each fillet.
Enclose the fish with the foil, allowing some space between the veggies and foil ceiling (in other words, don’t wrap it too tightly). Make sure the seams are pinched together carefully, so no steam can escape. Bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and the quality of your foil construction. To check doneness, insert a fork to the center of one filet. It should be white and flaky. Serve with a lemon wedge.
I’m still learning in this department, but this Wakame seaweed isn’t bad. You can buy it dried from specialty/health food stores. It just needs to sit in water for a few minutes to blossom into the beautiful green leaves you see here. I have added it to salads. Friends tell me it can also be used in soup, or any recipe that calls for greens. My advice is to start small. The flavor can be bold, so initially, just use a little bit. If you have any tasty suggestions, please share them here! If you really can’t get into cooking with it, maybe stick with veggie rolls from a Japanese joint.
For more of Marci’s writing and recipes, visit feelfoods.com, where recipes are sorted by how they make you feel.
Murray, Michael T., Joseph E. Pizzorno, and Lara Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria, 2005.
Chia, Mantak, and William U. Wei. Cosmic Nutrition: The Taoist Approach to Health and Longevity. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 2012.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2002.