Sunday, July 8, 2012


A little over a year ago I reported on what I called my anti-cancer 'diet', although I hesitate to call it a 'diet' because there is no calorie counting, weighing of food, or point systems involved.  It is more like a nutritional lifestyle.    It also seems to be a topic of much curiosity so it is probably about time I blog about it.

It all started last year with a visit to the nutritionist at Huntsman Cancer Institute.  Over the years, I had become more cognizant of the health benefits of a nutritious diet and my primary goal for this visit was to ensure my nutrition supported reduced risk of recurrence.

The nutritionist provided me a handout where the American Institute for Cancer Research recommended the following:
  • Plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans should cover two thirds of the plate
  • Include substancial portions of one or more veggies or fruits on your plate (not just grains)
  • Eat five or more servings every day of a variety of colorful veggies and fruits
  • Choose minimally processed foods and limit consumption of refined sugar
Research shows that eating a plant-based diet reduces risk of cancer (and a boatload of other diseases)!  

This was a start.  Then I got my hands on this book:

In his book, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, who underwent treatment for brain cancer...twice...and survived an additional twenty years, uses his background in medicine and science to detail the complete anti-cancer lifestyle.  While the book is incredibly informative, the sections on diet and environmental toxins especially resonated with me.  Dr. Servan-Schreiber describes the importance of choosing foods that reduce inflammation in the body,  have a low glycemic index (foods that don't cause spikes in blood sugar level), and are not toxic (processed foods, non-organic, and animal products).

Then I watched the documentary Fork Over Knives (highly recommended), got a copy of The China Study (also highly recommended), and read Brendan Brazier's Thrive books (to try to figure out how an athlete can sustain on a plant-based diet).  I was sold.  100% bought in for the health benefits of a plant-based diet.  Adding in the positive ethical and environmental ramifications of a plant-based diet is icing on the cake!

I started the plant-based diet not long after my diagnosis in February 2011, however it has evolved over time, and I suspect that it will continue to evolve in the future.  Last summer, after watching Fork Over Knives, I eliminated all dairy(including my favorite greek yogurt) and have since added the occasional salmon and/or free-range egg.  I also avoid soy because it potentially interacts with my medication.  (Most soy in this country is genetically modified too-and the health ramifications of genetically modified food is not yet clear).

Now, you may wonder what a person on a plant-based diet eats?  The answer is: plenty, just not much of what is considered the traditional American diet!

Over the past year, I have found some great cookbooks and recipes and with a little planning, maintaining our new nutritional lifestyle has become quite manageable, maybe even fun...  Everyone seems to love pictures of food so I have photographed some of my favorite meals, although I must admit I'm more about the nutrition of the food than the presentation:)

My favorite breakfast is a bowl of steel cut oats with MILA, hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds, vegan carob chips, blueberries, and a touch of agave nectar.  It really tastes more like dessert than breakfast.
For lunch, I usually have leftovers or pack a nutritionally dense salad.  One of my favorites is kale, arugula, spinach, onions, hemp seed, pine nuts, grape tomato, avocado, olive oil, and a touch of balsamic vinegar.  I especially like this meal because I don't need a microwave to heat it up.  On busy work days I often have to eat in my car.

Snacks:  Pretty much happen all day long.  I still have my daily 'green' smoothie and this helps me get some 'green' early in the day without eating kale and spinach for breakfast!  Some of my favorite ingredients for the smoothie include kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, fruit (banana and pineapple seem to help it taste more like fruit than veggies), ginger, MILA, hemp protein.  I eat fruit and nuts in pretty much unlimited quantities for snacks.  I also sneak in some 'processed' food such as whole grain toast or ancient grain cereal.  Mmm cereal.  My processed guilty pleasure that I just can't quit!

Some of my favorite dinners:
 Quinoa with veggies.  Pretty much use anything that is in the fridge
 (broccoli, garlic, bell pepper, green onion)
 Brown rice with veggies (same as above)
 Brown rice with kale and veggies (kale, carrot, mushroom, green onion)
 Wheatberry salad with cucumber, bell pepper, zucchini

I always throw together a sauce for these dishes.  One of my favorites is olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin or turmeric.  Olive oil, lemon juice, and agave nectar is also yummy.  

 As a pasta substitute we make zucchini pasta
with grape tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and almond cheese

 I do occasionally have a salmon dish.  My favorite is cauliflower, brown rice, with salmon.
 ...and for dessert, homemade ice cream:
blend and then freeze cashews, dark chocolate (or vegan carob) chips, agave nectar, banana, and maca powder
Homemade energy bars: almonds, dates, dark chocolate (or vegan carob), and a touch of almond butter.  Topped with hemp seed.  Mmm.  Only make for special occasions.  I can put this away in no time!

How does this fit in with being an athlete?  So far, I think pretty well.  People always ask where I get my protein.  There is actually quite a bit of protein in a well thought out plant-based diet.  On a typical day I'm getting 70+ grams of protein.  When I add in a Vega protein drink, closer to 100 grams of protein!

So what does this look like in numbers.  Well, here are some recent lab results.  Prior to these labs, I had not had my cholesterol checked in years, but high cholesterol does run in my family.
My numbers: textbook perfect!

Desirable range
Cholesterol Total
Less than 200mg/dL
HDL (aka good cholesterol)
Greater than 40mg/dL
LDL (aka bad cholesterol)

One concern with a plant-based diet is maintaining sufficient iron levels.  I do take a daily iron supplement, and my iron and ferritin are holding steady.

Desirable range
Iron, Serum or Plasma
Iron Binding Capacity Total

Another value to watch on a plant-based diet is Vitamin B-12.  That too is holding steady, however it is my understanding that it may take years for this value to drop so I will continue to have it monitored.  

Desirable range
Vitamin B12
385 pg/mL
210-911 pg/mL

Eating this way certainly isn't for everyone.  It takes some thought and definitely a bit of planning, but, after a year where I underwent a treatment I didn't want for a disease I wish I never had,  it is truly empowering to feel like I am doing everything I can to remain healthy and reduce risk of recurrence.  I feel pretty darn good too!     


  1. Looks delicious, you are pretty amazing for sticking to your new "diet." I didn't realize how few vegetables I ate before everything until I started to push myself to get 5 servings of vegetables in a day. It is work, but it helps, a lot!

  2. Glad to come across this knowledgeable post. Thank you for posting about cancer, I would like to also talk about cancer centers in Georgia which could be of great help to treat cancer.