Foods to Fight Cancer by Richard Beliveau, Ph.D. and Denis Gingras, Ph.D. is not just for cancer patients. Certainly, it provides a path by which people who have been diagnosed can become partners in the fight for their health. However, it is meant as a prevention guide for anyone living in today’s society looking for a way to take control of their own wellness.
The book begins by explaining exactly what cancer is. For most people, cancer is a scary word. When we hear it, we think of acute health problems, perhaps even a death sentence. This book describes cancer as a chronic disease, one that develops over time from a variety of factors. Humans today are bombarded by thousands of environmental toxins, more than at any other era in our existence. That, coupled with a diet of convenience and a sedentary lifestyle, has led some of us to switch on genetic markers that turn cancer or other chronic diseases, on.
The fact is that we all have cancer cells in our bodies right now. Cancer is really nothing more than cells reacting to this toxic environment that they have been presented with. All life on Earth has been created through evolution of cells and organisms, reacting and changing to better adapt to their environment. Cancer is nothing but an extension of this evolution. The only difference is that cancer cells have gone rogue. In other words, instead of adapting as a part of the organism (you), cancer cells (if given the chance) adapt and separate themselves from you, growing as a foreign body inside your own.
The authors argue that by changing what we eat and utilizing what they call ‘nutraceuticals,’ we can turn those genetic markers to the ‘off’ position. In this situation, cancer cells, instead of proliferating, will be found by your intelligent immune system and be destroyed. So what, exactly, is a nutraceutical? As you can imagine, a nutraceutical is a pharmaceutical that is found in food. We all know that foods contain carbohydrates, proteins and fats (aka macronutrients). What these scientists are looking at are the micronutrients (phytochemical compounds, fibers, vitamins and minerals).
Farmers have some control when it comes to making vitamins and minerals available to plants. Here at Harmony Valley Farm, we prioritize soil health by adding compost, growing cover crops and rotating crops to replenish soil nutrients.
When it comes to phytochemical compounds, however, the plants have their own ways and means of producing them. From page 59:
“Phytochemical compounds are molecules that allow plants to defend themselves against infection and damage caused by microorganisms, insects, or other predators. Plants cannot flee their attackers and have consequently had to develop advanced defense systems to counter the harmful effects of aggressors present in their environment. The phytochemicals produced by plants have antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal properties; they repair the damage caused by aggressors and allow the plant to survive in hostile conditions…. Because phytochemical production occurs in direct proportion to the stress to which the plant is exposed, we might guess that plants cultivated naturally, without the use of synthetic pesticides, are more susceptible to attack and thus contain greater quantities of self-defense molecules,” (emphasis mine).
Without directly saying it, what these scientists mean is that organic foods most likely contain phytochemicals in greater amounts. While the jury is still out on whether or not organic foods contain more macronutrients than their conventional counterparts, these scientists are theorizing that organic does trump conventional when it comes to micronutrients, particularly phytochemicals.
A basic premise of the book is that human beings have been tasting and testing plants on Earth for thousands of years. We often think that our ancestors chose the plants that we eat simply because they did not poison us, or because they tasted good, or perhaps because they were easy to grow. The authors argue that humans have actually selected plants based on their ability to fight disease and keep us healthy. They cite ancient texts such as the Bible, Greek, Roman and Arabic mythology, Egyptian scrolls, Chinese culinary preparations, Japanese tea masters, Ayurvedic principles, Assyrian cuneiform, Aztec archeological remains, and Mayan and Toltec legends to prove that humans have been classifying these plants as beneficials for a very long time.
The doctors set out to prove that these compounds in food really work. In their lab, they use raw extracts of whole fruits and vegetables. They do not separate these extracts into their parts. They are interested in what the fruit or vegetable as a whole has to offer. What they found is nothing short of spectacular! The phytochemicals that they study include: antioxidants, polyphenols and isothiocyanates; compounds that target the processes involved in the development of a tumor. They think a diet based on regular intake of these foods is one of the strongest weapons we have for the prevention of cancer.
So, what plants have emerged as the focus of their study? In brief, the categories that are presented in the book include: the brassica family, (cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, arugula and the like) the allium family, (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, etc.) soy (edamame, miso, tempeh), turmeric, green tea, berries, omega-3s, tomatoes, citrus fruits, red wine and chocolate. The scope of this article is too short to go into the details of how the phytochemicals in each of these categories work, as well as the best ways to prepare and consume these foods for maximum benefit. Keep your eyes peeled for future articles in this series for that information!
I strongly encourage anyone who is serious about taking charge of their health to read this book and learn more about how whole, organic foods can alter the course of your life. My motivation to eat delicious, fresh, nutritious food has never been higher. Luckily, I work at the best possible place for access to these wonders of nature: Harmony Valley Farm!