When did eating get so complicated?

We hear and read about so many different diets or the latest food or nutrient you absolutely should or shouldn’t eat, and we’re left wondering what the heck we’re supposed to do. Add to that frustration a cancer diagnosis, and you might be feeling more confused and overwhelmed than ever before.

Here’s the bad news. There is no magic formula or diet or “food in a box” that will be the answer to your prayers when it comes to figuring out what to eat. We are all so different biologically and need different foods at different times in our lives, so there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet or secret. We actually have to do a little work, take the time to prepare our food and pay attention to how that food makes us feel to know if it’s a good choice.

Here’s the good news. Generally speaking, there is a diet that many experts agree can greatly benefit most people, including those affected by cancer. Eat real, whole foods and mostly plant foods. Reduce or omit processed foods, artificial foods, refined sugars and animal foods. This means plenty of vegetables, especially leafy greens, fruit, whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal, healthy fat foods (think avocado, coconut, and nuts) and plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. And if you want to include some quality animal foods in your diet like eggs, fish or meats, then consume it in smaller amounts, use quality sources (look for organic, local, naturally raised) and pay attention to your body after eating it. If you generally feel worse (tired, headache, stomach and digestive discomfort, etc.), then it’s very likely not a good choice!

Eating clean, unprocessed whole foods is what your body needs to function properly, fight disease and maintain a healthy weight. If you can focus on this type of eating, not only will your body be better equipped to heal from and fight cancer, but it will also be better able to withstand treatment side effects, and you’ll feel better in the process!

One of the first things I noticed while undergoing chemotherapy was how much more quickly I bounced back to life in between chemo sessions every two weeks, once I began getting the junk out of my diet and the good stuff in. I felt happier, more energized, stronger, and less nauseous. What a difference from my meat-and-potatoes, take-out pizza diet!

On top of feeling stronger and more energized, I also felt a sense of empowerment. I knew I was doing something amazing for my body that would help me through Cancer World. From the moment I was diagnosed, I knew I couldn’t just sit back and let my doctors (no matter how awesome they were!) take control and hope everything worked out. I needed to be proactive. I needed to know that what I did could actually make a difference. And it did. I knew that this food was helping my body heal from cancer – even if it only helped a little – every little bit makes a difference.

So when you’re trying to find your way through the endless maze of nutrition information, try taking a step back. Go back to the basics – get clean, whole foods. Lots of plant food. Food your great-grandmother would recognize. Get in the kitchen. Get your family or friends to help you in the kitchen if you’re too tired. Try growing some spinach in a pot on your window sill.

Don’t stress over the details, the calories or the latest diet fad. Just tune-in to your body, do some experimenting and go have some fun in the kitchen!
To get you started, here is a favorite recipe of mine from Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen.

Cashew Kale
Yield: makes 2 1/2 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, thinly sliced into rounds (about 1/2 cup)
2 bunches kale, thick stems removed, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons tamari (soy sauce)
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup raisins

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the carrot for five minutes. Add the garlic, kale, tamari, cashews and raisins and sauté a few minutes until cashews begin to soften.