Let’s back-up a bit and take a more detailed look at raw diets. Here is more from the first draft of my yet to be named second book for cancer patients:
Hearing a cancer diagnosis for the first time is unnerving at best. Cancer patients tend to feel like they have lost control. Diet is one way to try and grab some of that control back.
I get it—been there, done that! But please be careful before embracing any extreme diet or exercise program—and a raw diet is the poster child of extreme diet plans!
A raw diet is a vegetarian diet made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, sprouts, whole grains, dried fruit and sometimes seaweed, raw eggs and unpasturized milk.
The advantages of eating an all natural diet like this for a cancer patient should be obvious—but that doesn’t make it an easy thing to do!
The principle sounds good—very little sugar to “feed cancer.” No meat to clog the intestines and introduce added carcinogens into the body. No processed foods, which tend to be composed of mostly empty calories, devoid of nutrients.
So the argument goes, cooking foods depletes, destroys or alters vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Organic foods restrict the use of pesticides. Cooking meat can make much of the fat and protein undigetible. Worse yet, cooked meat can have a cumulative congesting and clogging effect on your body.
An additional benefit may be controlling one’s insulin levels by limiting processed sugar and other foods, like potatoes, grains, bread and rice—foods high in simple carbohydrates. Many researchers believe high carb foods “feed cancer.”
Ultimately, the most common argument for eating a predominantly raw diet comes down to enzymes. Nutritionists agree your body needs natural enzymes found in fruits and vegetables to aid in digestion and to help your body maximize foods nutritional benefits. Eating lots of cooked foods not only destroys these enzymes, it places a burden on your pancreas and other organs.
Raw diet proponents point out that cooking food destroys these important enzymes. This argument is countered by more traditional researchers who point out the body produces its own enzymes for digestion—and that cooking actually makes some nutrients easier to absorb.
For example, lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots are absorbed best by your body after they are cooked.
One of the most visible supporters of eating raw foods, Dr. Joseph Mercola, seems to contradict his pro-raw diet position when he writes: “The best source of alpha-lipoic acid, an important and powerful antioxidant, is found in grass-fed red meat and organ meats.”
But is this a contradiction? Remember, no one, not even Dr. Mercola, who claims to consume a diet made up of 90% raw foods, advocates human beings should eat all of their food raw—leaving room to supplement one’s raw food diet with carefully selected cooked fish, meats or poultry, like free-range chicken.
I subscribe to Dr. Mercola’s weekly newsletter. One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t fall into the classic American strategy when it comes to nutrition: if a little is good, then more is even better.”
Dr. Mercola’s emphasis has always been for a person to keep their insulin levels as low and even as possible, thus helping prevent cancer and a number of other health problems. He believes in powerful anti-cancer flavonoids, like those found in the skins of grapes and in red wine, as well as other antioxidants—just not at the expense of elevated insulin levels. Dr. Mercola’s advice on the best way to stabilize your body’s insulin levels: “Ingest less sugar, including limiting your intake of sugary fruits—and eat a raw diet, made up of vegetables, free-range, organic eggs, milk and a small amount of nutrient and antioxidant dense fruits like blueberries and bilberries.” He also advocates eating raw ostrich or other lean, organically grown meats.
Raw eggs and milk? Raw ostrich meat? What about salmonella or other poisoning attributed to eating raw or undercooked food? Perhaps this may be a good time to cover some of the obvious disadvantages to diving-in and eating a raw diet.
Meal planning can be challenging, especially if you are away from home a lot. Raw diets don’t offer a lot of variety when compared to a traditional, well rounded food plan which includes countless cooked food options. What about protein? Sure, you can get the protein you need from a raw diet. But careful consideration must be given to which foods are eaten together and in which order to maximize nutritional efficiency, especially where protein is concerned. Other nutrients can be more difficult to ingest as well. There is also some disagreement among nutritionists over the effect cooking has on enzymes. Many would say it is a natural function for your body to produce its own enzymes. These scientists argue eating cooked meals does not place any extra burden on your pancreas or other organs, since providing this function is what they are designed to do.
Finally, what about taste and texture? Raw food diet guru’s will argue this isn’t the case, but a life without the tastes, textures and aroma of cooked foods is impractical for all but the most dedicated. And giving up sugar? That’s a deal-breaker for me!
Still, the inconveniences and sacrifices associated with eating a raw diet might be worth it—if there was proof a raw diet prevented, cured or slowed the growth of cancer. Sorry, but there really isn’t any definitive evidence supporting this theory. The before-mentioned Dr Mercola would disagree. So would Victoria Boutenko, author of 12 Steps to Raw Foods. Ms Boutenko’s book treats eating cooked foods like it is an addiction or dependency. This author, like many others, claims a raw food diet strengthens the immune system and can improve or even cure depression, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. Why should cancer be any different?
If you, my fellow cancer patient, would like to try and do something–anything to improve your overall health and try to fight your cancer using nutrition, a raw diet may be one of your best options. Radical and difficult–yes. Unproven–yes. But if you are careful, what do you have to lose?
Health permitting, I should be finished with my second book about nutrition and financial guidance for cancer patients before year’s end.
In the meantime, feel good, keep smiling and eat more raw vegetables! Pat