Tag Archives: cooking

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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How Can I Motivate Myself to Eat More Turmeric?

I didn’t plan on writing another post on turmeric. But after getting some tips via facebook in response to my previous post, I thought I’d put up a quick update.

Jessica of Our Little Honey Bun shared a turmeric milk recipe with me involving honey and a cardamom pod – sounds delicious! And then one of my favorite teachers from high school, Dr. N of Dr N’s Blog told me about putting fresh turmeric root in smoothies with black pepper, coconut oil, and lots of fresh fruits & veggies. These, and a few other comments, inspired me to start collecting turmeric recipes on pinterest.

So far, I’ve pinned more than 40 recipes that incorporate turmeric.

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Some are desserts that I’d only make for special occasions, or tempting drinks with a per-cup sugar load that gets my spidey sense tingling. Others are savory dishes and veggie-filled soups that I’d like to try soon. The mouthwatering photos accompanying the recipes certainly motivate me to get in the kitchen.

I’ve never been much of cook, though. I aced my food science and food safety classes in grad school, but food prep has always appealed more in theory than in fact. I can boil and scramble eggs, make salads and stews, cover strawberries in chocolate, and even bake the (very) occasional cake. Yet other than boiling eggs, none of these are daily occurrences.

So the aspirational pinterest photos aren’t motivating enough, on their own, to get me to attempt a turmeric recipe. That’s where science comes in. I found a few studies specifically about using turmeric in cooking. A recent article published last spring in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition has a title that basically says it all: “Turmeric and black pepper spices decrease lipid peroxidation in meat patties during cooking.” Lipid peroxidation happens when free radicals react with lipids. Studies show that eating food with lipid peroxidation products poses health risks, and is associated with diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer and myopathy.

This suggests that not only would I be getting the anti-cancer benefits of turmeric if I used it in cooking alongside black pepper, but I’d help to protect my food from health-damaging free radical damage to boot.

Food scientists also found that turmeric powder added to burgers at 3.5 grams per 100 grams of meat acted as a natural antioxidant, “increasing the quality and extending the shelf life of rabbit burgers.”

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I’m not sure why these scientists, who happen to be based in Italy and Hungary, were specifically interested in rabbit burgers. I have no plans to make rabbit burgers in the foreseeable future, but I’d assume that this study’s findings can apply to many types of meat and perhaps vegetarian dishes as well.

An earlier study with turmeric and fish lends support to this idea. Fish contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). That’s usually considered a good thing, but the high degree of PUFA unsaturation means that they are more vulnerable to oxidation by free radicals than other types of fatty acids. But, good news for fish lovers: researchers found that 75 mg of powdered turmeric root significantly inhibited lipid peroxidation in cooked mackerel.

These studies convince me that supplements, even if they do contain turmeric/curcumin in the amounts claimed on the labels, can’t offer me the full benefits that cooking with freshly ground turmeric root would. But I’m not ready to ditch the supplements, because I can’t see how I would ever get up to eating or drinking 3-4 grams of the spice each day. It has a distinct taste, which I don’t like except as a faint note in the background of louder flavors.

I decide to start slowly; I can keep my supplement regimen while experimenting with the turmeric recipes I’ve saved on my pinterest boards.

Just one recipe each week – that sounds like a reasonable goal.

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And this blog is a handy tool to keep me accountable. Stay tuned to find out about my turmeric kitchen adventures.

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