August 12, 2009

Is Eating Sugar Bad For My Cancer?


During PET scans, my cells gobble up an injected glucose tracer (much like I gobbled up three pieces of blueberry pie in one sitting for breakfast last week.)  So if my cancer cells are thriving on sugar, does that mean eating sugar will encourage cancer growth?

No.  Our body chemistry isn’t that simple.  I’m bombarded by over the top and overly simplistic web comments and articles about cancer and sugar, written by folks who range from fad diet elites to total wacky freaks.  And that’s not who I trust for medical information.

Diana Ulman, founder of The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, recently told me about Rachel Beller.  She isn’t just another gal swept up by healthy eating who hung a nutrition shingle on her door.  She is a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree and clinical experience, who makes recommendations based on evidence based scientific research – the kinda info that makes it into peer-reviewed journals.

Surfing her website, I found her article on cancer and sugar.  Here’s a great quote: “Sugar doesn’t just feed cancer cells; rather, sugar feeds ALL the cells of the body, including cancer cells. The body needs sugar to function, and if sugar is cut out of the diet, the body will then produce sugar from other sources of dietary intake, including proteins and fats. So cutting out sugar won’t really help. Cutting down may not be a bad idea because when one eats a lot of sugar, it causes the body to produce more insulin. Insulin promotes cellular growth, including cancer cellular growth. While insulin is necessary for normal healthy cells, too much of it can have undesirable effects, including increased cancer cell growth.”

Rachel suggests moderation (not so trendy, but very wise):  Increasing protein, fiber, and good fat helps the body produce less insulin while giving you good nutrition.  Eating sugar with a protein, fiber, and good fat helps your body process sugar in a healthier way.  Natural sugar is better for you, and she advises ditching soda and limiting candy and sweet treats.  Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Here’s my sugar regimen: No to pop, high fructose corn syrup, and packaged baked goods.  Yes to jumbo bags of Reese’s Pieces a couple times a year at the movies, and baking Martha Stewart and my mom’s recipes for cakes, pies, cobblers, and tarts -  I cut the sugar in half or even less and it tastes better!

Have you ever been freaked out that sugar is going to cause your cancer to grow?  Have you ever ditched sugar?  Do you feel better when you don’t eat it?

To learn more about evidence-based complementary and alternative medicince read my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

July 24, 2009

Overwhelmed By Cancer & Diet Choices?


Go green, vegan, raw, buy organic, juice up, chow on berries, ditch sugar. There are anti-cancer diet books, blogs, and products galore that tempt me where it most hurts – the idea that what I eat will make my cancer go away.

It’s anxiety provoking, wanting nothing more than to be cancer free and having to walk through the daily media circus of onco-food washing. There’s so much “information” with so little evidence behind it. It’s overwhelming to know what’s actually good for my body. There are times when I’ve wanted to cry raising a fork to my mouth and wondering if the food on it was killing me.

Some of the logic seems straightforward: put carcinogenic chicken in my body and increase my cancer burden. But for me, it isn’t that simple. Leading up to my diagnosis I was vegetarian for 14 years, vegan for 7 of them, did brown rice fasts, and thrived on organic greens and bulk whole grains. On this clean and green lifestyle, 19 tumors grew in my neck. It’s hard to know where to turn after that.

Enter Shannon, my voice of reason. It killed him to see me so freaked out over trying to be healthy. So we came up with a plan for what I should eat: 1. No dairy – it just makes me feel like crap – except I still eat organic butter, blue cheese, and bread pudding. (Why suck the joy out of life?) 2. Only organic and pasture fed meat and eggs. This means I eat a lot less meat because it’s expensive, hard to find, and almost never available in restaurants. It tastes a hell of a lot better though.  3. No packaged crap. This is nothing new for me. 4. Quality baked goods when I feel like it, which is only every so often. I’m talking peach cobblers with buttery crusts NOT brown rice syrup cookies.

Food is a pleasure for me again. I have no guesswork, no beating myself up at mealtime. And because I made these healthy rules myself, it is easy for me to comply with them, and to change them over time if they need tweaking.

Wheatgrass fasts might be fine for others, but for me, I’m anti anti-cancer diets. Instead I like the idea of crafting food guidelines tailored specifically to my life and my values. When creating a “diet” that worked for me here’s what I considered. Hope these are helpful for you too:

* How much time do I have for special meal preparation?
* How much money do I have in my budget to spend on food?
* What is the availability of quality produce and meats in my area?
* What makes my body feel good?
* Am I getting enough calories, protein, and nutrients?
* Do I trust the sources that are telling me what I should or should not eat?

Do you ever stress out about food contributing to your cancer burden? How do you tame that anxiety? Have you ever tried a cancer diet? Was it sustainable? What is your ideal healthy diet?

For more tips on balanced, healthy approaches to cancer and body mind healing, check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook