Everything ‘healthy’ is not always healthy

We all know the “healthy diet” drill-eat low fat, low calorie and supplement that with fruits and veggies and all is well. Or is it?

I recently came across a story about a large weight-loss conglomerate who is endorsing an equally large fast food chain as having “healthy” menu options. Even though this is happening in New Zealand, the impact can be felt worldwide. These foods are notoriously over-processed and high in fat and sodium. How can they really be good for you? And then the awful truth hit me: slap a “healthy” label on anything and consumers will flock to it in droves. But do you even take a second to stop and think about what this “healthy” food does to our bodies?

And it’s not just the food itself that’s an issue. Environmental triggers like stress, lack of physical activity and atmospheric pollutants add to the problem. Couple all this together with the traditional Western diet of processed foods full of refined sugars, red meat and unhealthy oils and you’ve got a recipe for bodily harm.

But what does that really do to our bodies? According to David Servan-Schrieber in his book “Anticancer: A New Way of Life,” these things all cause inflammation, which can eventually promote cancerous growth. Servan-Schrieber believes we all have cancer cells in our bodies, but not all of us will develop cancer. Why are some of us “luckier” than others? Because certain lifestyles cause cancer cells to thrive, whereas other lifestyles hold them in check.

Servan-Schrieber speaks from experience. A physician and neuroscience researcher, Servan-Schrieber discovered his own cancerous brain tumor during a voluntary experiment. After enduring conventional treatment, he went back to his previous lifestyle of high sugar foods, red meat, and little exercise. A few years later, his cancer returned. After treatment, he decided to investigate how he could help his own body better prevent cancer. After months of research, he concluded that, “We all carry cancer cells in us, even if only a few. But we also have natural defenses that usually prevent these cells from becoming an aggressive disease. These defenses include our immune system; the bodily functions that control inflammation; and foods that reduce the growth of blood vessels needed by tumors.” Servan-Schrieber was only expected to live a few years. His battle with cancer ended 20 years later, when he died on July 24, 2011.

Foods Servan-Schrieber suggests we reduce are those with a high glycemic index (the foods that quickly raise our blood sugar but leave us feeling hungry shortly thereafter) like sugar, white flour and white rice; hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like sunflower, soy and corn oils; conventional dairy products; fried foods; and non-organic red meats, just to name a few. Instead, we should replace these foods with those having a low glycemic index like fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains; healthy oils like olive, canola and flaxseed; organic grass-fed dairy and meats; organic poultry and omega-3 rich eggs; and fish. He also suggests an increase in the intake of specific anticancer products like turmeric, green tea and soy, as well as to filter tap water.

Some of you might be reading this now and thinking, “Yeah, right. That’s going to stop me from getting cancer.” Or maybe you’ve had cancer and are reading this wondering if simply changing your diet will keep your cancer from returning. Perhaps the doctor’s story isn’t enough to convince you. Well, here’s another for you to ponder.

After I finished my last round of chemotheraphy in June 2009, I entered remission for the fourth time. Previously, there had never really been an issue of getting me into remission-the bigger problem was getting me to STAY in remission. After I finished my initial treatment in May 2007, I relapsed in October 2007. After my transplant in February 2008, I relapsed again in November 2008, and then again in March 2009. You don’t have to be a doctor or a mathematician to notice these painfully short bouts of remission.

When I finished chemo in 2009, my sister called me and informed me seriously, “I’ve been doing some research. I came across some herbs with anticancer properties, and I really want you to look into them.” The herbs she’d researched for me included turmeric, red clover and essiac. Turmeric is highly touted by Servan-Schrieber as the “most powerful natural anti-inflammatory identified today.” It also helps stimulate apoptosis (death) of cancer cells and reduces tumor growth. Red clover contains the anticancer compound genistein that prevents new blood vessels from forming in a tumor. Essiac, an herbal tea mixture, was once promoted as a cancer treatment in the 1920s. This product may strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation. After doing my own research, I took the list to my oncologist and asked him if it was ok for me to take them. He told me they were fine. And while he didn’t actually say it, I wondered if he felt they really wouldn’t make much of a difference either way.

That was July 2009. It’s now January 2012 and I’m still in remission. I’ve been taking turmeric, red clover and essiac religiously. Again, you don’t have to do the exact math to see how long this remission has lasted. Does it have something to do with the extra supplements in my diet? I can’t say for sure, but it just seems like too big of a coincidence to believe they don’t at least have some positive effect.

But I’m not just taking supplements and doing nothing else. I’ve always been physically active, and I’ve eaten the run-of-the-mill “healthy” diet. Thanks to Servan-Schrieber’s book, I’m modifying my diet into an even healthier one. I’m doing this in baby steps. First, I switched from Splenda to Truvia, and I hope to eventually be able to cut out sweeteners all together. I started buying organic fruits and vegetables and meats that are labeled as grass-fed. Incorporating small changes in increments increases the likelihood of sticking to this healthy plan.

And really, it’s not just about keeping cancer at bay. These lifestyle changes will also help you feel better in general. Case in point: I’ve spoken to so many people who claim they overdid it during the holidays (myself included) by indulging in too much sugar, too much alcohol and too many carbs. Now think about how that made you feel. Sluggish. Bloated. Unmotivated. In a word, miserable. And who really enjoys feeling like that?

Why not make the effort to move toward a lifestyle that really is healthy? Yes, it’s work. Stop grumbling. Do you think you’re worth it? Do you owe it to yourself to be the best person you can be? If not for yourself, what about for your family and friends who love you?

It’s a new year. Is there really a better time to make a fresh, healthy start?