I’ll bet you were beginning to think that I abandoned this blog. And I wouldn’t blame you if you did! Unfortunately, spring has brought it’s share of unforeseen challenges. Less than 14 months after my father died from metastatic melanoma, (widespread skin cancer) my mother was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma- cancer of the bile duct. It’s almost unbelievable to fathom- both of my parents had cancer at the same time. And my brave Mom, the ever doting wife, sublimated her own suffering to care for my father’s needs.
My parents on their wedding day. 34 years later, they were united in cancer.
Two weeks ago she had a nine hour procedure to remove the tumor and part of her pancreas. Once she heals from the intense procedure, she will begin at least 8 months of chemotherapy.
As a nutrition student, one who spends every moment researching the therapeutic value of food, I wish that I could offer direct assistance to my Mom. Through modest dietary changes, such as adding more colorful organic fruits and vegetables, we could maximize her chance at remission. I would inform her of the harmful effects of nitrosamines, found in foods such as cured meats, smoked fish, and cheese, all of which are big players in her diet. (1,2) These compounds are suspected to be potent carcinogens, and specifically implicated as a factor in cholangiocarcinoma. (3)
Lest you misunderstand, by no means am I placing blame on my Mom (or anyone in a similar situation) for her cancer. But we can take an active role in our health- what we eat has a tremendous impact on our bodies. Our diet can contribute to disease, but it can also help to heal us.
My glamorous Mom just hours after giving birth to me. On my birthday last week, she was once again in a hospital bed, recovering from cancer surgery.
But my Mom does not agree here. Unfortunately she does not want to make any dietary changes, and the mere mention of the issue would upset her. So this is a place where, tough as it is, I have to let go. Just as I had to let go on this topic when my Dad had cancer.
Did you know that only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary? This means that 90%-95% of cancers are due to environmental causes. Diet accounts for 30% to 35% of these cases. That’s 5 to 10% more than cases related to smoking! (4) Because of this reality, doctors and scientists are beginning to stress that cancer is a preventable disease, the avoidance of which requires major lifestyle changes.
As a 6 year vegan (with 20 years of vegetarianism behind that,) these statistics are also why I’m not obsessing over the contents of my DNA. We absolutely do have a say in our health- it’s not necessarily the luck of the draw.
And whether or not our genes predispose us to cancer, the genes we are born with do not necessarily dictate our long-term health. Our diet can keep our DNA healthy and intact, or it can contribute to mutation. For instance, heterocyclic amines, compounds that form when cooking animal flesh, (including fish) dairy and eggs have been shown to induce mutation. (5) Inversely, phytochemicals, (anti-cancer compounds in plants) keep genetic material intact and combat oxidation. (the latter can also lead to genetic mutation.) (6)
And those same phytochemicals can actually reverse cancer cell progression! Random clinical trials have shown us that such fruits as strawberries and cranberries can actually halt and reverse cancer cell growth.(7) Even without chemotherapy! Such a simple, delicious addition to one’s diet can be truly lifesaving.
Make one for yourself and one for someone else you want to remain healthy!
When someone is sick, you can only do your best. Do the best you can to be a support to your loved ones and to yourself. But so often at these times we overlook our own needs as they just don’t feel important enough. Just like my mom did when Dad was sick. It’s so easy to get lost in the chaos when you’re concentrating on how you can help others.
It can be a challenge to feed yourself well when anxiety is raging. But in trying times we need to pay attention to nutrition even more. So while I can’t help my mom with nutritional support if she’s not willing to go that route, I can make a concerted effort to eat healthfully, and as a nutritional consultant I can also provide information so that others may do likewise.
So on to the recipe. After a long day in a stuffy hospital, nothing energizes me more than a bright, fresh juice blend. With every sip I can just feel the nutrients replenish my body. And with cancer all around me, I have the continual reminder of the importance of phytochemicals. Smoothies and juices are a wonderful way to get all those colorful wondernutrients in. This blend combines several powerful phytochemicals, chiefly anthocyanins, betacyanins and bromelian. It has a bold, fruity flavor that’s both satisfying and potentially lifesaving.
Save those beet greens! Just toss in olive oil and garlic and you’re all set.
It’s no secret that the beet-pineapple connection is one of my favorite recent discoveries. The earthy beet pairs perfectly with the rich, tart flavor and sweetness of pineapple. The strawberries make this blend even more complex and unique.
You’d never know that this indulgent drink was good for you, and I guarantee that kids won’t know either- it’s a perfect veggie-disguse recipe for people (old or young) who refuse to eat their veggies. I could also see hiding some spinach in there.
I’ll use this glass for the cocktail.
My usual note on ingredients- go organic! The pineapple is ok to buy conventional (thick skin protects the fruit from insects, thus fewer pesticides needed,) but you’re truly doing your body a disservice if you’re eating conventional strawberries, listed on the dirty dozen. And there’s nothing between the soil and that beet. Plus phytonutrient activity is far higher in organic produce.
Uber Antioxidant Juice Blend
Yields about 2 pints- enough for two servings.
1 large beet
6 frozen strawberries
1/2 cup chilled coconut water
6 ice cubes
Remove the greens from your beetroot- if you like (and you should!) reserve the greens for dinner. No need to peel your beetroots. When cutting your pineapple, keep the core in there. (fiber is the crowning glory of blended juice) Cut the beet in a few chunks- same for the pineapple. Throw beets, then strawberries, then pineapple, coconut water, then ice into a Vitamix. Crush down ingredients with the tamper- the beets and ice will take a little pushing just to get them going. Process on high for about 60 seconds. Pour into glasses and drink immediately! Cheers!