Several years ago, we saw tremendous growth in the consumption of fat-free and low-fat products. Believing we now had “healthier” versions of everything from salad dressings to our favorite desserts, these products began flying off the shelves, and formerly “forbidden” foods for those watching their diets became acceptable in their reduced fat versions. While perhaps reducing their fat intake, most consumers were unknowingly increasing their sugar intake, as refined sugar was the ingredient most often used in place of fat. The increased consumption of refined sugar can have serious health consequences, including a greater vulnerability to cancer, and possibly, even a worse outcome. Let me explain what happens when too much refined sugar and other food products are consumed.
If you ingest whole foods, insulin will be secreted slowly and the body will manage this well. Insulin is needed to carry glucose into your tissues and is essential for providing much needed fuel. However, ingest a candy bar, your favorite brand of cookies, or twelve ounces of soda pop—what I like to refer to as carbonated belly wash—and the cells in your pancreas will respond with a surge of insulin.
In recent years, researchers found that women with early stage breast cancer who had the highest insulin levels were twice as likely to have their tumor metastasize, and three times as likely to die of breast cancer, as women with the lowest insulin levels. For this reason, I believe any patient combating breast cancer or trying to avoid a recurrence would be wise to have their doctor routinely monitor their insulin and blood sugar levels, as well as their insulin growth factor (IGF-1). Choosing a whole foods diet and staying fit can reduce the deleterious effect that elevated sugar and insulin levels can have on both the risk of recurrence and risk of death. In addition, following a nutritional, fitness and therapeutic supplement program can help achieve or maintain improved levels.
Even though all therapeutic interventions should be individualized to match the needs of each patient, I’m convinced that certain dietary recommendations are fundamental to achieving improved health.
- Eat a diet lower in fat, and make it a better quality fat. Ideally, fat should represent no more than 18 percent of your daily caloric intake. “Good” fats include monounsaturated and Omega 3 fats.
- Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almond oil, and walnut oil. Omega 3 fats include flax seed, canola, and, of course fats contained in cold water fish.
- Eat abundant cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, and brussel sprouts, which contain plant phytochemicals that result in lower blood levels of estrogen by increasing the estrogen detoxification and dumping capacity of the liver.
- Eat a diet high in fiber, with plant-based sources of protein. Consuming more fiber in the form of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and beans can reduce harmful circulating estrogen levels.
In addition, while research has shown that mind-spirit interventions improve quality of life for cancer survivors, there is also data that suggests they boost immune function, increase cancer-fighting melatonin levels, and can play a role in helping prevent recurrence.