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Eat to Defeat Disease – Even Cancer! A Doctor’s Top 25 Foods & Herbs…Including Chocolate

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Working in oncology as a medical resident was one of the toughest parts of my training. My patients were you and me. Women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond who were feeling fine – until they weren’t – and then found themselves with a cancer diagnosis. They were mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and friends. It was deeply saddening to see their suffering – they are patients whose names and faces I remember well.

It was also terrifying, because I could find no common denominator. It was a constant reminder of our vulnerability.

But is there a common denominator? Can we prevent cancer? What about other chronic diseases?

According to William Li, MD, founder of the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation, indeed, there is a common underlying factor, and the great news is that food may be our best ally in preventing not only cancer, but diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease, to give you just the short list.

Angio… What?

You see, the common denominator in not just cancer, but in many chronic diseases, is something called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis simply means the growth of new blood vessels. For most of us, the work of growing new blood vessesls is complete when we’re babies. That is unless we are women, in which case we grow them in our uterus every month in order to maintain the potential for pregnancy. If we get pregnant, those extra blood vessels will be available to feed and grow our placenta and baby; if not, they will diminish and our menstrual period will come.

All of us are also able to grow new blood vessels under a scab or at an injury site, to promote local healing.

Otherwise, however, our body has a system of checks and balances that keep us from growing new blood vessels in the wrong places. But in cancer and in a number of other diseases, something has gone awry, overriding those checks and balances, and allowing extra blood vessels to grow, feeding unhealthy tissues, including tumors.

The relationship between angiogenesis and cancer was first discovered by Dr. Judah Folkman, who in the early 1970s demonstrated that blocking angiogenesis could keep microscopic early cancers dormant. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Folkman speak many years ago – he was a scientist and a humanitarian. In 1997, an Italian physician, Adriana Albini, coined the term angioprevention to further describe the process Folkman discovered. She demonstrated that the “tumor microenvironment” can be crucial in determining whether cancer does – or does not  – grow.

Why Is This Important to You?

More than 1-in-3 people will have cancer in their lifetime. Actually, microscopic cancers are developing in our bodies all the time, but our body has marvelous systems for defeating unhealthy cells.

Whether cancer will grow is partly determined by whether angiogenesis is kept in check – or not. In the past decade, anti-angiogenic drugs have been helpful in increasing the cure of some cancers. However, they are expensive, not without side effects, and as stated earlier, treatment is never as simple or certain as prevention.

So yup, I’d say it’s important to all of us.

Eat to Thrive!

Epidemiologic studies, the type of scientific study that looks at factors that influence health amongst large numbers of actual people in various populations, have shown that eating certain foods regularly can undoubtedly reduce the risk of developing cancer in many people.

Once again, nature shows her clever design! Numerous molecules in a wide array of common foods help prevent abnormal blood vessel growth, helping us to potentially prevent cancer growth! Foods can be angiopreventive! 

Did you know that like a tumor, fat also grows on blood vessels? Obesity is a leading and absolutely preventable cause of disease around the world. Eating the right foods can help prevent obesity and its many related diseases.

The simplest way to decide which foods to eat? Eat a rainbow! The foods richest in cancer preventing compounds tend to come in beautifully colored packages and sumptuous tastes – naturally.

Here are my top 25 favorites:

  • Apples           
  • Blueberries
  • Red Raspberries
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Strawberries 
  • Lemons
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts      
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Onions          
  • Artichokes
  • Garlic
  • Olives (and olive oil)           
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Lentils                
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts        
  • Yogurt           
  • Dark chocolate         
  • Green tea      
  • Coffee

Yup, dark chocolate makes the list!  This is a mouth-watering shopping list, n’est pas? No restricting here! Doesn’t life just keep getting better?

Spice it Up

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Herbs and spices have been prized for their health promoting benefits since long before Marco Polo ventured out along the Spice Route. Herbs and spices figured in the prevention and treatment of major human epidemics, for example the Plague (garlic) and malaria (quinine from the bark of the Cinchona tree). Sadly, the seasonings most people use are just salt and pepper.

Herbs and spices with known cancer preventing activity include basil, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, parsley, rosemary, thyme, black pepper and cilantro. Eat them daily, fresh, dried, in salad dressings, in soups, even in smoothies and green juice! Ooh la la! So tasty!!!

Additionally, a number of medicinal herbs, including those in a class called “adaptogens,” for example, ginseng, licorice, and medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and maitake, have been found to have definite cancer prevention properties. They also improve energy and immunity, and help with blood sugar control.

And let’s not forget that herbs grow in the sea! Sea vegetables including kelp, wakame, and dulse can add to our nutrition and help keep us healthy (avoid those grown in high mercury waters such as off the coast of Japan). They can be eaten as condiments, or my favorite way – in miso soup. And check it out — miso is also angiopreventive!

Now We’re Cookin’

Ok, ladies, given the above lists, with the addition of small amounts of dark meat chicken and turkey, a number of varieties of fish including salmon, shrimp, flounder, sole, and others, we could create delicious meals without end! And this is just the top 25 list! Think of all the different ways we can combine these foods and spices in salads, soups, and an endless array of deliciousness! And yes, red wine is also on the healthy foods list, in moderation which means no more than a glass a day for women (less if you have a history of or high risk for breast cancer).

Food is about life, celebration, pleasure, and enjoyment – all important factors on our path to radiant, optimal health.

The Bottom Line?

Food is our best medicine, and prevention is always better than cure. A plant-based diet rich in a colorful variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices, with good quality protein from legumes, fish, and small amounts of meat is our best health option and a delicious way to eat – and stay slim, energetic, and fit along the way! Health is also a great gift we can give to our families and friends – so eat well, and whenever possible, share meals with others!

  • How would you eat if you knew that food could prevent cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease?
  • How might you change your diet based on this article?
  • Do you have favorite cookbooks for healthful eating?

Please share your stories and favorite foodie resources in the comments below!

 

To your vibrant health!

AJR-Sig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Betsy Jones says:

    Love the article as I just heard of two more people this week with cancer. Also, my sister’s neighbors on both sides of her have it. We have lost a 3 yr old great nephew (diagnosed at age 6 mos.) to this horrible disease as well as my husband’s brother 6 mos. ago. One comment I’d like to make is that a number of the healthy foods you have listed are also on the ‘dirty dozen’ list for high pesticide/herbicide use. It’s not just something that can be washed off as it can be taken up through the roots. So, unfortunately, one should go organic for most of these things…which can also get very expensive.

  2. I love reading your stuff, Aviva! I’m studying at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and this topic has been raised many times :)

  3. As always , this article is solid advice and couldn’t agree more. Thank you Aviva, as I am not a medical professional , I will be sure to pass on this info to my coaching clients and readers.

  4. Aviva, I love your article I think prevention is key. I cared for my mother in her last years until she died after years of trying to naturally “cure” herself, the problem was that she waited until it already started eating her bones (stage 4 or 5) until she even tried. Fortunately, she was able to extend her life years beyond doctors predictions but it was an uphill battle. I learned a lot from that experience and I am a strong advocate of prevention.

    You really summed it up with “The Bottom Line” because it’s really important to understand that by eating the foods you mentioned alone will not prevent cancer. They need to be incorporated into a healthy diet. There are more factors such as…the source. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to add a few considerations as well…

    Avoiding GMO’s by purchasing/growing organic and local will greatly increase prevention rate as well as only eating wild caught/pasture raised/grass-fed animal products if your going to. Of course avoiding all processed foods (boxed or canned) by only eating real food/whole food, natural sweeteners and unrefined salt. One more thing to add is the amount of activity in ones daily life and stress levels which cancer loves. Environmental issues are also a factor, but often difficult to pin point. If one cares for themselves the proper way, sometimes environmental issues will not affect a person.

  5. Loved this post and it’s so true! These 25 foods make me excited about healthy eating compared to the corn and soy based junk foods. Those junk foods are so easy to cave into (I think because of the MSG drug-like reactions and marketing and convenience, but how much more convenient can it get to eat fresh raspberries???), but thinking about the vibrant, colorful foods of nature and how healthy they are really make me want to use food as my medicine. I especially enjoyed the section on herbs and spices. Those two things are like potent activators that take healthy foods to the next level. My dream is to open a permaculture apothecary farm growing herbs, spices, fruit, and honey for food and medicinal uses. I’m slowly but surely making my dream a reality. Thanks again for another great blog post :-)

  6. Jennifer Hermann says:

    How important IS eating organic and non GMO? For example, I often hesitate to buy strawberries that I know are not organic, because of the pesticides, so sometimes i just don’t buy them or eat them. Is it better to buy the non organic ones and eat them anyway or go without?

    • Hi Jennifer – Ah a great blog topic. Nutritionally probably pretty similar. For our hormonal health, cancer prevention, and for our environment, hands down, super important. Have you gone to the Environmental Working Group website before? It’s an EXCELLENT resource. Check out the clean 15 (cool whether organic of not because low toxins) versus the dirty dozen (best to avoid if not organic). This will give you a great list to start with. I always only use organic dairy and meats. But $4 for an organic peach? Hmm…. not so much! :)

  7. Linda N says:

    Oh My God, Aviva, you forgot TURMERIC!

  8. Yanna Loam says:

    Thank you, Aviva!. The role of angiogenesis in tumor growth isn’t something the general public hears much – if anything – about.

    You wrote: “Obesity is a leading and absolutely preventable cause of disease around the world. Eating the right foods can help prevent obesity and its many related diseases.”

    In the United States, where the majority of us are overweight or obese, messaging about food is as least as present as messaging about obesity – and those messages are coming largely from industries who profit either by selling us processed foods or by selling us weight loss programs (which are statistically shown to fail the vast majority of the time). Real food doesn’t have a shelf life to speak of, no one can patent it and thus it’s not portrayed on billboards, in television commercials, on the radio or made available at snack bars or school cafeterias (by and large).

    Many people know that they should eat healthfully but only have a vague idea of what that entails. They may not personally know anyone who actually does eat for health. If they search online for information, they encounter conflicting information (Paleo! Mediterranean diet! Organics are more healthful! Organics are elitist nonsense! GMOs are harmful! GMOs are safe!).

    The challenge for those of us who are interesting in supporting patients/clients as they recover from or seek to prevent cancers or other serious illnesses is simply controverting the sheer volume of ridiculous messaging around food that most people are bombarded with daily.

    Online and local community outreach are of vital importance. Thank you for your visibility and empowering message!

    • Dear Yanna,
      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful message. What kind of work do you do? Warmly, Aviva

  9. I love Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison for discovering new ways to use fruits, veggies and herbs, as well as beans, lentils and nuts.

    • I also love a cookbook called Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison. The book features simple, every day recipes that are both casual and hospitable. I love it for its distinction for dishes according to seasonal availability of produce. Eat local and seasonal to get a well-rounded diet of fruits and vegetables. :)

  10. I might also add, in an energetic level which precedes all physical manifestation, prevention may include listening to and honoring our heart’s callings, our emotions, consciously working out difficult relationships the best way we can at the present moment, walking with as much honesty, courage, integrity, balance and grace as possible. A life-long exercise it is but guess we are here to give it a good try!!

  11. Aviva, thanks for your scientific AND compassionate writing. I love this article. One thing I would add is what we’re learning about the importance of eating our fruits and vegetables FRESH. As the new book Eating on the Wild Side (by Jo Robinson) discusses, nutrient levels decline rapidly when produce is shipped and stored. So, supporting the local foods movement and growing whatever we can at home is important to our health!

    • Yes, love this concept that Jo Robinson is promoting – it’s quite similar to how as herbalists we think of herbs — as wild medicines that provide ancient missing elements needed for health.

  12. JoAnn M. Stark says:

    Thank you so much Aviva for caring to share what you know to help us. I ordered the Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook by Dr. Hyman after reading one of your newsletters. I am passing on recipes and your newsletters to my daughters. Thank you Your newsletters are reassuring and informative. What a gift. JoAnn

  13. Love this :) what yogurt do you recommend??
    Cheers!!

    • Hi! Anything local, organic with live cultures are ideal! Seven Stars, Brown Cow, Stonyfield Farm are all good options available commercially. Best health to you! Aviva

  14. Love your blog posts, Aviva! Having fought (and beaten!) breast cancer last year and now finding out that I have celiac disease (really, something else to deal with?!), I’ve been even more conscious of how we eat. I love your list, most of which we eat on a regular basis.

    However, I struggle with the claims of the Paleo, vegan, macrobiotic and blood type diets in terms of health and disease prevention. I would be interested in particular of your thoughts on the Blood Type Diet (based on the book Eat Right For Your Type by Dr. Peter D’Adamo)? My husband and I loosely follow it and I have to say, when I follow it more strictly, I definitely feel better – and so does he. I’m Type O and my husband is A. I’m supposed to eat lots of lean protein (including grass fed red meat), veggies and fruit, while avoiding all wheat and dairy; my husband is supposed to avoid all red meat. I’m not a doctor, nor do I have a medical background (I’m a lawyer by training), but Dr. D’Adamo’s analysis – that blood type determines susceptibility to illness, what foods you should eat and how to exercise – seems logical and sound. One diet, one exercise regime, doesn’t – nor should it – fit all.

    I look forward to hearing from you in this regard!! With gratitude, Kim

    • Hi Kim, As if the health stuff you’re dealing with isn’t enough, the diet stuff’s enough to make you pull your hair out, right? It’s sooooo confusing. I am actually considering writing a blog on the common threads that all of the different diet guru docs actually believe. As for Peter D’Adamo, he might really be on to something and so if it’s easy enough to tailor your diet and still be practical, then great. I haven’t studied his work but 2 of my most super genius colleagues think he’s super smart. There definitely isn’t a once size fits all but with celiac, getting a million percent off of gluten is really critical for quieting down your overall systemic inflammation. You might find The Ultra Simple diet by Mark Hyman a useful reference. It’s practical and simple and might help you find your way to practical and possible. Also, instead of you and your husband having to avoid everything that you might share,go for the shared vegies – salads, greens, etc, and then make enough of what you each need separately to heat up a few times a week on the side. REd meat for you, alternatives for him — to help keep it simple. Hope this helps! Keep kicking ass with your health! Beating breast cancer is a huge thing. Congrats to you! Aviva

  15. I absolutely agree with you, Aviva – we are what we eat. We should be eating foods that are not processed in any way, and go back to cooking from a scratch with a whole foods. Eating good fats is important, I recommend to check out Sally’ Fallon book called “Nourishing Traditions”. Also, we should avoid eating sugars or carbohydtates that turn into sugars, in my opinion. I usually curb my cravings for sweets with a raw chocolate powder I buy from Mountain Rose Herbs, and add it to a whipping cream before whipping, and then I eat it with blueberries (even frozen ones) or as is.

  16. Dvorit Leibovitz Strauss says:

    Hi Aviva,
    I love following you on FB and LOVE your list. My number 25 would be green tea as I do not drink coffee,lol. Have you heard of Isagenix, would love to know your thoughts? Thank you so much for all that you do ; ) Dvorit

    • Hi Dvorit, I’m a green tea kinda’ girl, too! But wow, folks do love their coffee and I want to foster healthy food relationships and joy in folks’ lives! :) I don’t know Isagenix – sorry. Something you use? I checked out their website just based on your post but didn’t dig deep. MLM? Be well! Aviva

  17. I tell my patients these very things every day, and you’ve said it beautifully here, Aviva, thank you. (And we met once at the AHG conference in Austin a couple years ago – loved that class with you too.)
    Since people are mentioning cookbooks, I’ll throw in a plug for Nourishing Connections by the Ceres Community Project – a FABULOUS program that cooks for cancer patients while teaching nutrition and cooking and compassion skills to teens. We don’t have cancer, but love the recipes in this book!

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