Nuts, Berries, Veganism and Plant Based Diets during Cancer Treatment

I had my oldest daughter right before I graduated from Bastyr University. We Bastyr students used to joke that there was something in the water because so many of us became parents during school or right after. I am guessing because of the accommodating environment for parents.

As a young mother and parent I tried my best, employing life lessons and academic knowledge to rearing my first born. We'd get this right, and this would be text book parenting. I'd provide all that she needed for a strong constitution and wise decisions and independence. Most important to this when she was young was nutrition. She'd be a good, no a great eater of organic food and a wide array of choices. I'd be awarded mother of the decade for my application of wisdom and science.

Not. Full stop.

She was the most selective (i.e. picky) eater I'd ever met. Her preference was nuts and berries, selected vegetables, and fruit, and goat milk (I won with the goat milk) initially. I worried for months at a time that she would stunted on growth charts and the doctor would suspiciously side eye me. It didn't happen she continued to develop normally. I continued to try and began to delve into the area of white pastas and some cheese (ugh, powdered cheeses) which took somewhat. By the time she was three or four she was eating a small amount of meat, but that ended when she made the connection between her beloved animals (of which there were many and a variety; I've personally seen a therapist about this - no you don't HAVE to get a miniture goat for your children...).

At some point when she was eight or nine she declared herself a vegetarian, and by thirteen or fourteen she took a further step into veganism (though she lapsed with an occasional hot dog on the ferry; don't ask).

Now, I myself declared allegiance to vegetarianism when I was seventeen. And by the time I was 26 I was delving into veganism. But it was a form of what I call 'Dorito veganism' where a person doesn't do their nutritional research and just begins to eat copious amounts of chips and bean dip or salsa. For me this lasted all of about two years. I grew fatigued and my stamina decreased. I suspect because my iron stores and Vitamin B12 levels plummeted over time, two nutrients needed especially for red blood cells and new cell growth.

I didn't want her to fall into my foot steps so I began to give her information on how to maintain good health and nutrition while being vegan. It takes intention, and time to prepare and combine food properly particularly with diets that are restrictive (versus an omnivore diet). She's doing pretty well, but sometimes goes vegetarian which is more convenient when you are a college student away from home.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that cancer patients be on a plant based diet. Some of my patients take this to mean a vegan diet. It does not. What it means is that red meat be limited to three servings per week and even with those servings they should be condiment sized, not the main even of the meal. Studies from the NCI found that inflammatory fatty acids found in the meat increased the risk of inflammation and thus DNA damage that leads to cancer cells in a variety of cancers. The Blue Zones study also found that in areas that were virtually cancer free people ate plant based diet.

In other words, plant based diets do not mean no meat, just a low level of meat.

If one wants to become a vegan, no problem. But it is essential to do this correctly particularly during cancer treatment. Many cancer treatments deplete Vitamin B12 and iron, two nutrients that if you are not careful as a vegan, you can become easily depleted it.

There are some wonderful vegan cookbooks out there. Very tasty recipes and nourishing foods. Use them!