Monday, November 19, 2007

What to feed me when I come over for dinner

My brain is going buggy from reading about diet and cancer. Most people, doctors and the Canadian Cancer Society included, will tell you to eat a "balanced" diet. This means following the Canada Food Guide, which means lots of bread and grains, some vegetables and fruit, a bit of meat, a bit of milk, and an eensie-weensie bit of fat, candy, etc. This is also known as the "four food groups." In terms of macronutrient ratios, this is a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. I happen to think high-carb diets--the diet that most nutritionists will tell you to eat--are bunk. Homo sapiens did not eat bread and pasta and rice until 10,000 years ago. Our DNA has still not evolved to handle huge quantities of carbs. Coincidentally, cancer, diabetes and heart disease were unknown in palaeolithic humans. Sure, some say that palaeo-man didn't live long enough to die of cancer, he was eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger instead. True, perhaps, but that does not imply that palaeo-man would necessarily died of these, "old age diseases." Besides, I'm 33 and dying of an old-age disease! No tigers in sight!

Over the last year or so I've been eating a loosey-goosey version of the Zone diet. The Zone is often maligned as a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, but it actually strives to provide 40% of your calories from low glycemic carbs (e.g. broccoli), 30% from lean protein (e.g. salmon), and 30% from unsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil). Basically it takes the Standard American Diet (SAD) and cuts out the junk and the grains, and makes sure you get a little bit of protein and healthy fat at each meal. Between the Zone diet and CrossFit, I've lost over 10 lbs. and gone from over 20% body fat to around 10%. By our society's low standards, people have usually considered me pretty healthy (I wasn't fat, after all), but until about a year ago I was a heart attack waiting to happen. Apparently, though, I was also cancer waiting to happen.

When I started thinking about diet and cancer, I kept coming back to one basic question: What do cancer cells eat? It turns out that they eat glucose, which every diabetic will think of as blood sugar. Here comes the really interesting part. Cancer cells cannot metabolize protein or fat. Just sugar from carbs. Now, how does your body make blood sugar? It eats carbohydrates. Remember all those veggies and fruits and breads, but especially the cakes and cookies and all the other junk that we modern humans love to feed ourselves but never ate much of during several hundred-thousand years of evolution? Cancer thrives on carbs, and especially junk food.

But wait! Don't all the other cells in your body need glucose? The answer may seem obvious to anyone who has used a granola bar as a pick-me-up. But the real answer is, no. In the absence of glucose, your body switches over to something called ketone bodies. I don't fully understand the biochemistry (I was a social science student, after all). Think back to our palaeolithic ancestors. What did they eat? They ate meat, a few nuts and seeds, maybe a couple of bushes or berries in season. They did not eat WonderBread and Skippy Peanut Butter, mashed potatoes, or even Granny Smith apples! And they didn't get cancer.

So the take home message is that I might be able to starve my cancer while feeding myself. Before you think I've gone haywire, there is scientific research to back this up. I've read the abstracts. Unfortunately, none of them deal specifically with lymphoma. I've seen three studies, involving brain, prostate and breast cancers.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that I will cure my cancer by eating only chicken and almonds. But perhaps I can slow it's progression by going light on the carbs, completely eliminating the junk, and loading up on healthy fats and adequate amounts of protein. I dislike militaristic analogies, but think of my diet as the artillery, softening up the enemy so that the ground forces (chemotherapy) can go in and do the heavy lifting.

Mmmmm.... All this talk about food has me hungry. I'm off to the grocery store, then home for dinner.


Jane Laughton said...

It's just one more unfair thing -- to have to go on a steep learning curve just at the very time when you are feeling low!

You are (and have been! wow, I am in awe!) doing everything possible to be healthy. Your ideas about diet make sense. I am going to picture you starving that cancer right out of existence!

Jane Laughton

Anna said...

Hey Jane!
Thanks for your call the other day!
You got your post up!


Anonymous said...


Sorry that I haven't got you on the phone to speak personally. I truly admire your bravery. Fight the good fight! You're doing just fine. I was told by my folks, who are holocaust survivors, that you, have the mentality that they be, or not to be, they say. That is your goal. I know you will beat this.
I Love You and Anna both...Keep the
faith. Big Sis Marianne Olajos

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
I'm a fellow Crossfitter out of Ottawa. I occasionally read your blog (linked from the comments page of the mother ship...)

Really interesting blog today about nutrition.

I recently read the book "The China Study". At first, I admit that I dismissed it. But lately it has been nagging at me. Your blog today reminded me again of that book. I picked it up and began reading it again.

If you haven't already read it, give it a read...