The importance of a nourishing diet as a factor in maintaining health has been at the foundation of all medical treatment up until the beginning of the 20th century. It has been our evolutionary and cultural heritages. Ancestors would pass down the knowledge to identify foods that nourish and those that threaten a more insidious outcome. As our culture deviates further and further from our food system, so does our relationship to health.
Home gardens have been replaced by factories and the Standard American Diet has indeed become SAD. The question of what to eat in health and in sickness, plagues us all. Working with cancer patients, I try hard to be patient, sensitive and empathetic while giving advice on this dietary conundrum. When we are stuck in a medical paradigm that focuses only on medical treatments, the lack of commitment to nutrition is clear. In the face of such a formidable enemy that is cancer, I believe we must recommit to making nutrition and prevention a focus in our healthcare and scientific research. Indeed, the National Cancer Institute recognizes prevention as “the first line of defense against cancer”1 and this inevitably includes nutrition.
Eating fresh, whole foods is the best way to meet the intertwined goals of weight loss, health maintenance, treating cancer and then keeping it at bay. It is important to remember that food should not and cannot be judged one component at a time. Low saturated fat for heart health; high fiber for gut health; low sugar and refined carbohydrate for diabetes; low sodium for high blood pressure, etc. We cannot use one nutrient at a time to protect one attribute of health. Rather, it is overall wholesome diets that form overall defenses against a whole host of ills. Time and time again a healthy diet has been shown to be a pillar of health: to improve prevention, improve survivorship and improve quality of life. 2-6
We are unlikely to reach health if we continue to view nutrition one component at a time. In fact, it is often this reductionist approach that leads to confusing and contradictory headlines. Optimal nutrition must instead be viewed holistically, which is to say whole-istically. This integrative approach to health similarly considers the whole person instead of, say, focusing on a cluster of symptoms or diseases. Integrative medicine considers the promotion of health and wellness and the prevention of disease in addition to the treatment of disease. The integrative treatment of cancer must include nutrition as an adjunct to surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Nourishing food is one of the best medicines we have.
It is beyond time to bend the arch of medicine to include and prioritize better nutrition in our medical systems. As a healthcare professional, I feel a certain responsibility to provide a foundation of nutrition knowledge to a broad population. Thus, I am so happy to be contributing to CURE. I am eager to hear your thoughts and comments. We must each make a commitment to smart choices as individuals, families, communities and as a society. Change begins with this shared sense of responsibility. Share in my responsibility and together we’ll make strides toward better nutrition.
Everyone eats and everyone has theories or opinions on food and nutrition. My best advice is to listen to what resonates with you and take a small step today to commit to change. I’m confident that one small change will lead to another and then another.
1. Cuomo, Margaret. A World Without Cancer. New York: Rodale, 2012: p.128.
2. Second Expert Report: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute of Cancer Research. 2007.
3. Izzo, C. “New Studies Show Importance of Diet for Lowering Breast Cancer Risk and Preventing Recurrence.” Curetoday. Published January 23, 2015. Accessed January 24, 2015. (Link: http://www.curetoday.com/articles/New-Studies-Show-Importance-of-Diet-for-Lowering-Breast-Cancer-Risk-and-Preventing-Recurrence-)
4. Rock, C.L. “Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 62, 4 (2012): 242-74.
5. Knoops, K.T.B., et al., “Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors, and 10-Year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women--The HALE Project,” JAMA 292 (2004):1433-39.
6. Khaw, K.T. et al., “Combined Impact of Health Behaviors and Mortality in Men and Women: The EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study,” PLoS Medicine 5, no.1 (2008), e12.