Hello, my name is Terrie, and I have a cookbook and health food addiction.
Well, sort of, anyway. A couple month ago a young woman who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me about her diet: No wheat, sugar, meat, fish, etc., and lots of juicing. Then a former co-worker was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. It got my attention. Perhaps there is more I could be doing. Thus began my odyssey into the world of food, cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.
First, I stumbled on Crazy, Sexy Diet and Forks over Knives (the movie). They spout a belief in the use of a vegan/raw combo diet as the way to control existing cancers and prevent disease. This sounded like what my young friend was doing. After watching the movie, I was ready to jump on the bandwagon until I found an extremely thorough and well researched critique at Rawfoodsos (link below). Using the same research study the movie is based on, she hacked big holes in their conclusions and helped convince me that vegan was a tad extreme for me. Besides, I thought Steve might revolt. So I read on and continued to look for a balanced solution (i.e. healthy and reasonable).
Along the way, I learned a few things: The body needs a certain amount of protein to support immune function so that it can fight off cancer cells. I also discovered the reason I’ve always felt like crap after being on a vegetarian diet for a few months was because I wasn’t getting nearly enough protein, and probably wasn’t eating a varied enough diet so that I could get all the nutrients I needed. Many of the vegetarian cookbooks I have read say things like You don’t need as much protein as the government recommendations say you do. And foolish me — I believed them! But in the months following my cancer surgery, I was told to eat a LOT of protein. I came to love my “Mojo juice”: a mixture of soy milk, powdered milk or muscle milk, and orange juice. I could go from run-down-to-the-point-of-feeling-brain-damaged to coherent and semi-lively in 5 minutes after drinking that stuff. So this last month, I began tracking my protein intake from day to day, and learned I felt better when I got the recommended amount, but felt tired and run down (a common complaint of mine) when I didn’t. Since low protein intake wasn’t helping my immune system fight disease, I decided to help it out! Oddly, I noticed I started sleeping a little better, too. A double bonus!
This lead me into a whole line of reading about acid and alkaline diets. Basically, the Standard American Diet (SAD — don’t you love it!?) of meat and potatoes, bread and dairy, followed by a coffee or cola chaser, is hard on your body. My understanding is that it makes your blood rather acidic, which results in bones and teeth that crumble (the calcium leaches out in an attempt to balance the body’s pH). It also creates a low level of inflammation in your body that is not reflected in elevated immune response (e.g. white blood cells), but non-the-less effects your health by setting the stage for disease states such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. I felt like I was on to something! What this said to me was that the diseases we often associate with old age are amenable to healthier lifestyle choices. Hmmm…Hamburger or heart attack? French fries and a shake or get up in the morning without creaking and groaning? Decisions, decisions…
The more I read on this inflammation process, the more I saw things either in myself or others that never made sense before. Mood changes, anxiety, sleep disturbances, blood sugar weirdness, muscle aches, joint pain and stiffness — a whole host of minor complaints! — are influenced by this inflammation process. Recently, a coworker started having muscle aches in his forearms. After carpal tunnel was ruled out and numerous therapies didn’t help, he tried eliminating the nightshade plants (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers & eggplant — all pro-inflammatory). The pain went away. He went out with some friends and had some french fries, and spent the next 2-3 days in extreme pain. Lesson learned.
In the end, I settled on the Anti-inflammatory diet. Being sort of overwhelmed with books on health and cooking, I found a nice synopsis on Dr. Andrew Weil’s website. Basically, it amounts to lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and omega-3 containing fish (e.g. salmon), while avoiding wheat, sugar, meat, and colas. No where does it say that something is an absolute no-no. Rather, the diet seems to me to be about being aware of what you eat, all things in moderation, and easing yourself into a more balanced lifestyle diet. i.e. it’s sane and healthy, and just what I was looking for.
As for acid/alkaline, I’ve about figured out that if it has protein, it’s going to be acid forming in your body, so just make sure to balance that out with lots of fruits and veggies. And if all else fails, you can put lemon or lime or even just a pinch of baking soda in your water, all of which, oddly enough, are alkaline in your system.
The drawback with all of this is that, really, you have no idea what the foods are doing, either good or bad. So, you have to trust the data. For years, we’ve known that vegetarians are healthier than omnivores, so I figure the more I ease over to that side of the eating spectrum, the healthier I’ll be. (Mark Bittman’s one man experiment with eating vegan before 6 seems to back this up. He lost weight and obtained healthier blood levels. See his book VB6 for more information. OK, so I’m not completely done with reading health/cookbook type books!)
Have a great week, eat healthy, and keep smiling!