Cancer and the Psychology of Eating Like You “Should”

Most of us know how and what we’re supposed to eat. Aside from a handful of surprising nutritional discoveries each decade (most of which just give us information about which already-established-as-healthy foods are slightly better than other similar foods), we’ve know for a long time what’s good, what’s not so good and what can be downright disastrous.

Some people have pretty good reasons for not being able to eat as well as they could – economic challenges can prohibit the purchasing of more expensive "healthy" foods, as can lack of availability and access. However most of us have access to plenty of healthy food and still struggle to eat in a way that would fill our bodies with vibrant health and energy. As in so many areas of life, our psychology or way of thinking about the issue can block us and keep us in unhealthy and self-sabotaging habits.

This morning my mom forwarded me an email, a list of cancer-fighting nutrition tips which supposedly came directly from the hallowed halls of Johns Hopkins University. I doubt that’s where they actually came from, but I still read it out of respect. Twenty years ago, back when few people were talking about nutrition and cancer, my mom dedicated herself to studying it and successfully warded off an aggressive form of breast carcinoma. I was surprised by how much some of the points affected me. I know about all them but still, as I read them I felt a little chill go through me.

I have a degree in Dietetics in addition to my M.D. and probably eat better than most, but I’d been letting things slip lately. I usually don’t like fear-mongering, but sometimes the only thing that’ll get us to shape up where we need to is a little (or big) scare. Here are some points from the email:

1) We all have cancer cells in our body, right now

True. Our cells are constantly dividing and cancer-producing errors happen regularly. This is happening in your body right now, and the way that you eat affects whether they get stopped or keep multiplying.

2) When your immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed, preventing them from multiplying and forming tumours

Yup – and what you eat directly affects your immune system. You need high-quality protein to build immune cells, and nutrient dense foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are critical to maintaining and pumping up the strength of your immune system.

3) When a person has cancer it indicates that they have nutritional deficiencies

Whether a person develops cancer depends on various factors. Genetics, environment, toxin exposure, lifestyle, etc. all play a role. However, few of us eat in a way that would optimally protect us against cancer, so it is quite likely that anyone who develops cancer probably didn’t do all they could nutritionally to prevent it. Most of us, including myself, don’t fully harness the power of whole foods to promote and maintain health. I usually manage 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day – but 10? Not so easy, especially with a busy life on the run.

4) Starve cancer cells by not feeding them the foods they need to multiply

This immediately brought to my mind the possible link between sugar and cancer – much of the most recent literature on this subject doesn’t support a strong relationship between sugar consumption and the "major" cancers, though there is some evidence that it’s linked to development of less common cancers such as cancer of the esophagus. Regardless, this reminded me of a study I came across a while ago that showed that sugar slows immune cell function in vitro, that can’t be a good thing! Plus there’s a whole host of other reasons to watch your sugar intake, as a reformed sugar junkie I constantly struggle with this one.

The email specifically mentions red meat consumption as being associated with cancer risk. There’s a lot of research out there that supports this theory, though it’s not clear just how big the impact really is.

5) To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzymes are destroyed at high temperatures.

This is one that made me stop cold. Though I don’t advocate an entirely raw food diet, there’s no question that fruits and vegetables in their raw form are packed with good things. Without realizing it, because of my busy life – and the tendency for fresh vegetables to go bad in my fridge during particularly takeout-heavy weeks – I’d gotten in the habit of relying on cooking from a huge stash of frozen vegetables to help me get my necessary servings in. Though some would argue frozen veggies are more nutrient dense as they get frozen right after picking, there’s usually plenty of fresh local produce available in stores.

I’ve been relying too much on cooked vegetables – I need to get more fresh ones into my fridge (and mouth) again. So there it is. I know more than most why I need to eat in a way that ultimately prevents most major diseases and cancer, but I can slide into bad or less than optimal habits just like anyone else. Can you relate? The next time you’re tempted to cut corners, it might not hurt to remind yourself of the handful of cancer cells potentially lurking in your body that need to be cut off at the pass. Send a big colorful salad their way and your whole body will thank you.

P.S. In my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, I also describe a simple way to eat that not only helps you lose weight, but keeps you looking years younger and dramatically reduces your risk of developing a wide variety of diseases.


Twitter:    ( @drsusanbiali )

Susan Biali, MD is an internationally recognized medical doctor, wellness expert, life coach, speaker and flamenco dancer.  She has performed for and taught celebrities, and speaks and dances across North America. Dr. Biali blogs for and appears regularly in media, including Fox News ABC,CBS,NBC and CTV, Global and CITYTV networks in Canada.  Her opinions  appear in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Self, Fitness, Hello!, The Medical Post, Reader’s Digest Best Health, Chatelaine and The Chicago Tribune.  She is the author of the best selling book Live a Life You Love! Seven Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You (Beaufort Books, New York).


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