Should I Go Vegan to Fight Breast Cancer?

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I’m researching and writing this series of posts with a bias. For nearly eight years, I’ve eaten a mostly Paleo or Primal diet.

A common misconception about the Paleo diet is that it’s very meat-heavy. That may be true for some Paleo enthusiasts, but the bloggers and podcasters that I follow have always emphasized eating plenty of fruits and veggies, choosing high-quality whole (non-processed or minimally-processed) foods with the highest nutrient density, and self-experimentation to personalize the diet to each individual situation.

Over the past several years, the Paleo diet has begun to morph into a lifestyle, with advocates emphasizing the importance of stress management, moving/staying active, getting enough quality sleep and even maintaining good social connections.

For me, going Paleo wasn’t so much about going gluten-free or loading up on meat as it was about giving up highly processed food that I felt nearly addicted to. EatingIceCreamCupcake

Fruit replaced cookies and bagels got switched out for pumpkin seeds and almonds. Hamburger buns became mushroom buns. That meant that my fruit and vegetable intake skyrocketed, while my meat consumption actually decreased.

I also became aware of the health benefits of choosing wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. Being so choosy comes at a high cost. As a graduate student and later an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, I could only afford to have grass-fed beef or wild-caught salmon as an occasional treat. My main sources of protein were eggs from pastured chickens, sardines and sometimes cheese or yogurt.

I considered my eating habits to be predominantly pescatarian, and started to use the terms nutritarian (or nutrivore? Best terminology TBD) to describe the philosophy behind my dietary choices.

On many occasions my nutritarian aspirations were restricted by cost, cooking skills or taste buds. Still, I thought I was doing pretty well.HealthyLivingEmojiAnd then I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

I felt like the universe was playing a joke on me. As a Registered Dietitian, I counseled people on making healthy food and lifestyle choices. How ironic that practicing what I preached failed to protect me.

Who knows, though – maybe I could have avoided cancer if I’d changed my eating habits as a teen. Or maybe something about my Paleo-ish diet did contribute to the cancer’s development. Not enough organic produce? Too much cheese? Too much animal protein? Too much kale?

Numerous studies do show an association between meat intake and cancer. However, in her evidence-based analysis of this link between meat and cancer, Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., concludes that: yes meat does

Dr. Ballantyne’s point-by-point examination of the cancer-promoting substances in meat and how they can be neutralized by plant foods, especially cruciferous vegetables, helped me to not be overly swayed by stories like Kris Carr’s.

Kris was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer (40-80 cases per year in the U.S.) called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma in 2003. She went on to direct the documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer and to author several New York Times best-seller vegan cookbooks.

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Kris’s story is, indeed, crazy sexy inspirational. She was able to use a devastating diagnosis of stage 4 cancer as a catalyst for improving her life. Most intriguing of all, her cancer appears to have been stable for over thirteen years and counting! Would I see the same crazy sexy results if I became a vegan like her?too sexy emoji

Another blogger, Dr. Elaine Schattner, offers a medical perspective on how Kris Carr has been able to thrive with cancer for so long. Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EH) comes in two forms – one that’s aggressive and another that isn’t. Kris luckily has the latter, non-aggressive form of EH. She’s been able to stay in wait-and-watch mode since receiving her diagnosis, and has never had chemo, radiation or major surgery to treat her cancer.

It’s entirely possible that Kris’s diet has helped to keep her cancer at bay. But Dr. Schattner’s post convinced me that Kris’s current well-being is due in large part to the type of cancer she has rather than any particular diet she might be following.

It’s also impossible to tell whether the vegan aspect of Kris’s diet is necessary. The results she sees could be entirely due to her shift from junk food to whole, minimally-processed food that includes a wide variety of fruits and veggies. Foregoing meat may have nothing to do with her or her followers’ success on the diet.

Or so I thought, until a friend emailed me a link to an article about methionine.

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More (much more) about that in my next post.

For now, I’ll leave you with a pic of the latest turmeric dish made by yours truly, with a bit of assistance from my patient fiance:

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Inspired by this post’s topic, I followed the Superfood Veggie Soup recipe from my Turmeric Pinterest board, with some modifications. I didn’t include carrots since I only like them raw, but I upped the garlic to five cloves, threw in some bay leaves and added an extra teaspoon of turmeric. My frozen veggies were okra and mixed mushrooms, and I substituted kale for Nori.

I made the stew for dinner a few nights ago but found it even more delicious when I heated it up for lunch the next day. I couldn’t taste the turmeric so threw in another tablespoon for the whole pot of leftovers. I think it’s just right at two tablespoons of turmeric for the entire pot, though the recipe only calls for two teaspoons.

The stew is all gone now, the turmeric-stained ladle licked clean. I’m thinking of making it again next week. Any suggestions for what veggies I can add to complement the mushrooms, kale, okra, tomatoes, garlic and onions?

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3 thoughts on “Should I Go Vegan to Fight Breast Cancer?

  1. Feeling an intense need to google “methionine” now….

    Great post. There is so much great information here. I try to avoid processed foods and only eat organic and free range meat…..it has indeed cut down on my actual meat intake!

    I also need to try mushroom buns. Holy heck. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before.

    1. Thanks Alex!
      Methionine is certainly fascinating, if you want to jump down that particular rabbit hole 🙂 I’ll try to summarize the research surrounding it in my next post, but it may take me two or even three posts to do it justice. I’m thinking about how to organize it all right now.
      And yes, mushroom buns are awesome, very tasty! But I have trouble finding large ones, you may have to go to specialty stores or maybe order online…

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