Ask Esther: Are some foods bad for people with cancer?

I’ve heard that eating animal protein, soy, and some non-organic foods aren’t good for people with cancer. Is that true?

This is a question that many people in the cancer community are concerned with – for good reason. The connection between food and cancer is extremely complex.

There are many stages in cancer development, each of which is influenced by many factors, both within the body and from the environment.  Food, too, in its own right is similarly complex. As we are all likely aware, there are thousands of studies out there attempting to determine how these two multi-layered systems interact.

There are so many misinformation and half-truths about food and cancer on the internet and elsewhere, that at CFYL, we rely on recommendations that are firmly based in sound research, and plenty of it. Some of the strongest evidence we have so far focuses not so much on individual foods that fight cancer but on diet and lifestyle as a whole. We take the view that is supported by many national organizations, such as the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society.

On our website and through our classes, we promote a plant-based diet that includes lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. While foods known for their strong anti-cancer properties, including berries of all kinds, kale, and garlic, are at the forefront, we also recognize that eating a variety of foods can help provide the wide range of nutrients needed for health.  Whatever the ingredients, whole foods, and recipes from scratch take center stage at CFYL, whether it’s a snack, a side dish, or the main course.

Keeping these guidelines in mind, we recognize the realities of peoples’ lives. For many going through cancer treatment, finding foods that they are able to tolerate and that are also satisfying and healthy (or at least somewhat healthy) can be challenging. We strive to be there to help them. They may be coming to cancer with a history of fast food and for the first time in their lives, they want to try something healthy, but not so far from what they are used to. Or it could be someone skilled in the culinary arts who wants to turn to healthier ingredients or ways of cooking. Or it could be someone already tuned into healthy cooking who is looking for more recipes. Those who want to avoid animal products can try one of our great selection of vegan recipes. Meat eaters and pescatarians are well served, the gluten-sensitive too.  We also understand that not everyone can afford to buy organic foods, so we don’t stipulate them in our recipes, but that doesn’t mean our recipes can’t be made with all organic products if that’s what’s preferred.

Cook for Your Life’s goal is to meet all these seekers at their own level and then some. Because when it comes to food and cancer, it’s important to include everyone at the table.

Esther Trepal is a retired registered dietitian who spent the majority of her career working with people affected by chronic illnesses; including HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.  Through individual counseling as well as community presentations and lectures, Esther’s focus was on maximizing the impact of diet to support the well-being of her clients. She graduated with an MS from Columbia University in New York City in 2001.

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