Cancer has touched every family. With annual runs and walks, we remember those we have lost to this disease, those who are currently struggling, and those who have overcome the obstacles and stand with us as survivors. The looming threat of cancer is not an easy or comfortable topic for many of us, in part due to a sense of powerlessness in the face of this scourge. But what if there was something we could do, every day, to help outwit the wily beast of cancer? And what if that something was as close as the nearest garden, farm, or market?
Drs. Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras have recently released an enlightening and illustrative book Foods to Fight Cancer, which offers a roadmap that all of us can follow to improve our odds against contracting or suffering from cancer. Based on the latest scientific studies, the authors describe the biochemistry behind their suggestions—all of which are based on the right choice of foods. Decades of research have shown intricate links between diet and at least one third of all types of cancer, which offers hope that proactive food choices can greatly impact personal health with respect to this disease.
We have all heard that “you are what you eat.” Cancer cells occur naturally in the body, but usually the immune system destroys these mutant cells before they can cause damage. Making smart eating choices, Beliveau and Gingras say, is the best way to augment and enhance this natural protection and suppression of cancer cell growth.
As early as the philosopher Hippocrates (460 to 377 BC), who proclaimed “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!,” healthy diet choices have been a central part of whole-person health. But the authors of Foods to Fight Cancer note that “The human diet evolved over thousands of years to include the foods most beneficial to our health, but in recent times we have favored a diet that excludes many of these essential foods. Returning to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other important foods is essential to preventing cancer” (43).
The lamentable aspects of the modern Western diet are directly linked with an overabundance of fast, cheap, fatty, and starchy foods currently in the market and on nearly every street corner. They are easy to access, easy to eat, require no food preparation, and cost relatively little (at the counter a least…has anyone priced out the cost of cancer lately?). Making healthy diet choices for cancer prevention requires attention and effort, at least at the beginning of one’s initiative. Once making and keeping these choices becomes part of daily life, the little things like chopping vegetables or picking berries offer their own simple joys.
Here are some great foods (as illustrated in the book) to help your body fight off cancer that you can choose to eat this week, right now.
Brassica Family: cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, cauliflower.
Lily Family: onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions.
Solanaceae Family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants.
Citrus: oranges, grapefruits, clementines, pommelos, lemons, limes.
Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, dewberries, and so much more!
To Add to Dinner
Omega-3: fish, pasture-raised eggs (naturally higher in Omega-3!), olive oil, nuts, flax seed.
Spice Cabinet: tumeric—it’s amazing to discover this Indian spice!
Soy: even if you’re not into tofu, roasted soybeans are a delicious snack.
Vino: red wine, in moderation.
Green Tea: look for Matcha, Sencha, and Gyokuro varieties.
Chocolate: go for the dark, rather than the milk.
To learn more about the finer points of selecting and whether or not to cook many of these foods to release or retain their essential cancer-fighting properties, Foods to Fight Cancer offers both scientific and very accessible guidelines and helpful ideas to get you started. Choosing fresh, local foods also unlocks greater health benefits than products which have endured the stress of being shipped long distances.
I know that living and working on the family farm has improved my own health and diet since we moved to the area in 2000. We were pretty healthy eaters already, but working the land by hand, tending animals and plants, and preparing meals together has given me a deep appreciation for the cycles of nourishment that surround us. Still, there are some foods that often require a cultivated relationship—crops like kale, eggplant, or kohlrabi. A new member to our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share program) may find herself stumped in the face of a novel vegetable. How do I fix mache? Google searches are often a great way to explore recipes for preparing foods that are new to you.
Changing individual habits, including food choices, seldom happen overnight. But as we continue to learn from each other, opting for a homemade kale and sausage soup rather than the burger can become an act of empowerment rather than personal denial. At Farmstead Creamery & Café, one of our goals is to have education be an important part of our initiative. As we brainstorm interesting possibilities for this autumn and winter, one of our ideas has been to host a workshop (or series of workshops) focused on building greater health before and after cancer. If such an opportunity interests you, feel free to give us a shout!
Ready to get started with some of these cancer-fighting foods? Here is a recipe to give a few a try.
1 bunch kale, deveined and torn into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil, enough to coat
Fresh ground black pepper
Toss kale pieces in olive oil, salt, and pepper (to taste). Spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Flip kale using a spatula part way through cooking. Enjoy hot or cold!
Here’s to the best of health for you and your family! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com