I tugged at my mini-skirt as I took my seat in Mrs. Jackson’s 7th grade home economics class. My desk faced the three mini-kitchens where the mysteries of meal planning and preparation would be revealed, an opportunity that would disappear from the school curriculum later in the 80’s. On that particular day our teacher started her class with words of wisdom that she hoped would stay with us for a lifetime. Those words were “you are what you eat”. Oh, how we giggled and made fun, saying “I’m pork and beans; you’re a hot dog!” I wish now that I’d taken my teacher’s words more seriously. For more decades than I care to admit, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. Later in life, as a mother, I raised my children to be poor eaters as well, rewarding them with sweet treats for their frequent accomplishments. For some reason, though, upon marrying and becoming a mother herself, our daughter Katie learned better.
Katie’s lean toward healthy food became obvious in 2010 after my routine mammogram revealed a small lump, which we later learned was HER2 breast cancer. As soon as she heard the bad news, Katie began to research treatment options, supplements, and foods that would build up my immune system and help as a weapon against my cancer. The first time we were together after my diagnosis, she presented me with a notebook that outlined my new nutrition plan. I’d love for you to go to our website and learn the rest of our inspirational story of how she risked her own health to save mine.
If you have chosen Meals to Heal as your nutrition program, you are in good hands. But if you are a cancer patient or caregiver, standing at the opened fridge door and wondering what’s for dinner, you might find my strategies for healthier eating helpful.
At our first training session, our daughter Katie “gently” mentioned to me that eating raw vegetables, say as an afternoon snack, would be a good thing. To me, “snack” meant something chewy-gooey sweet. I remember that I only stared at her with a blank face, finally responding, “Vegetables…for a snack? Why bother?” Turns out that the switch from sweets to veggies was not that difficult. Motivated by my daughter’s love and concern, I began to choose veggies, such as sugar snap peas, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, even raw brussel sprouts between meals. Once I had broken my addiction to sugary snacks, I was able to add fruits and occasionally a sweet treat made with healthier ingredients to my between-meal munching.
It has helped me to make my own fast-food snack packs. I clean fresh fruits and veggies, such as oranges, carrots, grapes, strawberries, or nuts and pack them in snack-sized bags, ready to drop into my purse when going out. Maybe once a week I’ll chop a portion of a chocolate bar that’s made with 70% or greater cocoa content, and mix it with nuts and dried fruit. Yum. Plain flavored yogurt, drizzled with raw honey or pure maple syrup is also nice between meals.
BECOME A LABEL READER
After some frustrating experiences at making out the tiny print, I finally learned to stick my reading glasses in my purse before going to grocery shop. I began to take a look at preservatives on product labels. If it read as though the food had been produced in a chemistry lab, it was not something I would want to eat.
Most experts agree that white bread, white sugar and white rice should be avoided. Experiment, as I did, by substituting brown rice for white. You’ll find lots of options for whole wheat and multigrain products like buns, tortillas and pita at most grocery stores. Make sure the products display the golden 100% whole grain stamp. Bread with flax, oats or other grains along with whole wheat would be a great choice. Avoid those bread products whose labels start off with the words “enriched flour”.
My main interest continues to be focusing on the sugar content printed on labels: every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. So… a ½ cup serving of a popular ice cream contains 21 grams of sugar. That’s over 5 teaspoons of sugar! Also we should avoid artificial sweeteners such as Saccharin, Sucralose and Aspartame.
Look for products made with healthy oils, such as extra-virgin- olive oil, grapeseed oil, or flax seed oil. Avoid using cooking oils that are high in saturated or trans fats such as vegetable shortening.
My next step, strongly suggested by my daughter, was to find a substitute for canned pop, my drink of choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One can of coke or my old friend Dr. Pepper contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. That’s 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon! Per can! I did it cold turkey and switched to water and green tea. Filtered water with a slice of citrus such as lime, lemon or orange can be very tasty!
Barbeque sauce, catsup and pancake syrup are full of sugar. Sometimes I still give in to the old habit of eating them but I’ve learned to pour one tablespoon on my plate and dip the food into it, instead of pouring the sauce over the food.
Most foods are assigned a glycemic index, which means a number between 1 and 100 that tells how quickly the food is converted into sugars in the body. Choosing foods that are low-glycemic and high in fiber is our weapon for good health.
You have all probably experienced the sugar rollercoaster: you eat something sweet. Your blood sugar spikes. Insulin is released and your blood sugar drops. You feel tired which leads to eating more sweets. When cooking we choose the sugar substitutes like coconut palm sugar, raw honey, or pure maple syrup, all having a much lower glycemic index. We switched to better flour choices, such as whole wheat pastry flour (it does not have a cardboard taste, as some whole wheats do), almond flour, oat flour and coconut flour.
Fiber is an amazing nutrient that can protect heart health, lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss and prevent cancer.
We added fiber, lots of fiber, to my diet. Mayo Clinic recommends that women over 51 years of age need a minimum of 21to 25 grams of fiber each day, and men of that age 30 to 38 grams per day. I challenge you to count your fiber intake. I eat around 40 grams per day and never felt better! This chart of high fiber foods could be helpful from The Mayo Clinic.
WE DON’T USE THE D-WORD
“Clean-eating” is the trendy term for those who focus on consuming food in it most natural state. As Katie writes on our website “We have never thought about what we are doing as a ‘diet’. We don’t go around feeling deprived, nor do we sulk about our Whole Grain Banana Muffins when our girlfriends order Italian Cream Cake.” In fact, we’ve developed recipes for healthier occasional desserts and posted them on our website. We have also hand picked a huge collection of clean-eating desserts recipes from other cooks on Pinterest and we invite you to visit us.
I wish I could tell you that healthy food can cure cancer. That’s seldom, if ever, true. But, eating well can help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It can make us stronger should we have to face illness, which it did for me when my breast cancer came back into my lymph nodes last October, catapulting my cancer up to stage IV. I was given a combination of three IV-administered chemo drugs weekly for 12 weeks. My pet scan in March 2014 revealed that I am once again in remission!