If you've ever lost a family member, loved one, or friend to cancer, then I'm sure you know what the F in this blog title stands for. First of all, my heart goes out to you. I feel like part of my life was stolen when we lost my brother to cancer, over three years ago, at an age far too young. My life changed when he passed away, and it still hurts my soul like it was yesterday. Writing about this topic is difficult, but I take solace in the fact that, unfortunately, many of you reading this can relate. If there is an elephant in the room of life, it's death, and cancer is the number two global killer, second only to heart disease (according to the World Health Organization.) Billions of dollars are spent every year on trying to understand ways to eradicate and prevent cancer, and to develop better treatments for those suffering from it's myriad of manifestations. I hold a personal grudge against this disease, and I believe that there are important steps we can take to prevent it.
Cancer is a beast, and people far smarter than myself have been trying to find the most effective ways to fight it and prevent it for many years. What interests me the most is how do we, as individuals, empower ourselves with lifestyle changes to keep it from invading our bodies and lives? Let me preface this by saying, there are certainly no guarantees in life, and if you are living with cancer, I am not saying that it is your fault. But we may be able to increase our odds of remaining healthy simply by modifying our daily choices. According to the World Health Organization, "between 30–50% of cancers can currently be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies," and those risk factors include, "tobacco use including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, being overweight or obese, unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, and alcohol use."
We all have our demons, and in our current culture, food is often on the top of the list. It's our drug of choice, and you can tell by the constant barrage of advertisements that we are easy targets to its seduction. In many ways, we have been lied to about what is good for us, usually in the interest of someone's pocketbook. I personally choose to eat a vegan diet, made up of predominantly whole foods, based on the best available evidence based science that it is the healthiest way for humans to eat. But all of us can benefit from partially reducing our intake of meat and dairy, processed foods, white flour and oil, and choosing to increase our consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. Small changes can make a big difference, and super foods like cruciferous vegetables and dark berries (to name a few) can help balance out the effects that less healthier foods have. If you can't go all the way, don't discount the advantage of adding healthier options to your plate. The nutrients, or lack thereof, that we flood our blood stream with through diet, can directly influence our bodies tendencies to promote or stop cancer growth.
There shouldn't be any guilt or shaming in what we eat, but I believe that we should be aware of the effects of what we put in our body. I know what it's like to struggle with the urge to eat convenient food, sweet tasty desserts, and salty satisfying snacks. When I give in and eat that pint of plant based "nice cream," or bag of "vegan junk food," (yes, Oreo's are vegan,) I try to come back strong the next day and refocus my efforts on a whole food plant based diet. I have no right to look down on any other person for their food choices, and I strongly believe that we each have the power to change ourselves, our quality of life, and our health destiny. I invite you to look into these topics, to explore the science, and come to your own conclusions. (NutritionFacts.org is a great place to start!) Our bodies have an amazing ability to respond to threats, and fight off disease when we give them the best tools available, and those tools are most readily available in the produce aisle at your grocery store.
I think one of the most common knocks against plant based enthusiasts is the accusation that we cherry pick evidence that suits our beliefs. And yes it is true that I am very influenced by doctors and scientists who are convinced that the majority of evidence points to disease prevention through a plant based diet, including regular exercise. But even mainstream sources continue to stress the inclusion of certain types of good foods, and the exclusion of dangerous food products from our diet to promote cancer prevention. If you've ever seen the movie, "What The Health," you know that large organizations that receive massive amounts of money are weary of stepping on any toes in fear of losing their funding and support. But even the American Cancer Society's web page offers this advice when it comes to a healthy lifestyle:
"A healthy eating pattern includes…
Foods high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
Foods that are not high in calories, and that help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight
A colorful variety of vegetables – dark green, red, and orange
Fiber-rich beans and peas
A colorful variety of fruits
Whole grains (in bread, pasta, etc.) and brown rice
A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include…
Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs
Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks
Highly processed foods and refined grain products."
I've heard people say before that they just couldn't learn to live without animal products in their diet. But I'm here to tell you it's not as hard as you think, once you find alternatives, create new habits, and discover the health benefits. You may in fact find that you have more energy and clarity, and enjoy foods and flavors even more than before. And I would like to suggest, without one bit of sarcasm, and with all my heart, that asking yourself to live without these dangerous foods is easier than asking your loved ones to possibly live without you. Thank you so much for reading and listening. I wish you and your family the best of health. May we all help each other to achieve it!
To see what I've been cooking in my kitchen, follow me on Instagram: Kevin B (@kevb1973)