Food, Cancer and my Mom
This is a longer story, or experience I want to share. I wrote this for you, for you who want to take care of yourself, to learn from my experience with myself and the experience I had with my mother regarding cancer and food. I wrote this when she was still alive, sadly she passed away on 11-10-2016.
A couple of years ago my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer. I actually forgot what type it exactly was, yet, her breast was amputated and her lymph nodes were removed. Her treatment was hard and long but she initially got well to get sick again during time of writing. In between I got issues for myself too, but then something completely different. What that did was letting me focus on food, to understand food, to understand what it does to the body and how it can be both harmful and healthy. To me it is important to share the understanding I have with you so you might be inspired, learn too. I am not a doctor, nor do I give medical advice. I am not food specialized either to present the magic diet. I just present understanding, my understanding, in a clear way based on what I have experienced and read.
I feel it being my responsibility to share and it is your choice what value you will give it. At least I have giving you the choice to do something with it or not.
My Mother and Food.
My mother is a sweet small woman. I love her for who she is with all her imperfections, unconditionally. As with all loved ones, it always is intimidating when something is happening with that person.
It was 2011, I was living in Thailand at that time. Then the phone rang and she called to say that she discovered something in her breast at a holiday trip in Germany. It turned out to be breast cancer. That was a shock, but, I also was confident to her getting well again with the healthcare we have in the Netherlands. She didn’t tell me exactly what cancer it was, what stage, the technical name, but that all could reasonably fine again.
After she was cured and during my episode I was thinking about her. That time I was living in the USA and was intimidated not only because of my own wellbeing but also about the food culture in the USA. That country is rather unique and many studies showed that mental and physical wellbeing is directly related to what we consume. I was teaching international volunteers who go out to Africa doing development work. A part of their training was to get knowledgeable about food and its functions, so all information I had at hand, was teaching myself, and now I started to relate it to myself and my mother as well.
When I added everything up, I got enlightened. I realized that my mother’s eating habits were far from healthy even though I thought she was doing well. Gradually, over the many years, the food she ate went from fresh to refined, sweet, salty, fatty snacks in between, “vegetables and salads are for rabbits”, high levels of sugar and an off balanced nutrition consumption. My lifestyle was already much more positive, as much as fresh food as possible, freshly made, but due to the food budget the school used to have it was not easy to have a well-balanced diet either. After I studied more about food, which I will explain later, I cut sugar all together and already that made a huge positive impact on my wellbeing.
At some point in 2013 my mother visited me in the USA and, already before I dug deeper in food related studies, I was concerned about what she ate and gave her one advice after the other. But still, 2016, “vegetables are for rabbits”. Now she has cancer again, it wasn’t completely out of her body and this time she will die from it. Am I blaming her for it because she didn’t eat well? No. I do not. Am I convinced that prospects may have been differently if she had been eating well during the last 10 – 15 years? Absolutely.
What is in the stores?
I am in my mid-thirties and can remember the nineties quite well. The pace of life increased, the economy was booming, people had more to spend and the whole attitude was to get more as fast as possible. The material needs increased – it was good to work hard and fast to be able to fit in the general picture. Now a few decades later, a stroll in the grocery store, reflects that process. Many easy meals, microwave meals, fast cooking and easy to prepare, food that can be stored for a long time, numbers and words on labels of which nobody knows what it is, but still, we are gladly eating it beyond doubting what it actually is and does to the body.
Fruits and vegetables are always in the beginning while the ‘easy food’ is near the register. Iles of sweets, soda’s, and frozen pizzas. The “bakery” gets their premade factory dough delivered only to finish baking it. Then near the exits are the cheap $0.50 breads, white, fat, unhealthy – “oh bread, shoot, forgot, ah let’s take this one as it is close to the jams”. Refined muesli, cornflakes, just to add some milk and done.
This is not only in the USA, though it is most present there, but definitely also in Europe and in the ‘modern’ grocery stores in Asia. The unhealthy colonization of food and products harming health and studies show that the ‘welfare diseases’ are on the rise, also there. The need to belong to the fast pace of life, getting more and more without overseeing consequences is also to be reflected in grocery stores in Asia. Do we ever ask whether that is good? Or are we just going along with what is easily and cheaply available?
It is not only how the grocery are organized, what the costumers prefer, or believe they prefer, how the grocery store reflects society, but, also where and what food is available.
In some places more and a faster change than in other places, yet, the visibility of food also pushes us to buy what is available. Grocery shops are disappearing from the city centers, moved to malls, or shopping centers outside of towns. Big, large with a lot of space. Organized hotspots attracting many people as everything is under 1 roof. The small professions like the butcher, local vegetable market, winery, bakery, and other shops are left behind with much less people who visits them. Their prices are fair but expensive to the large chains.
Whilst driving on popular roads, roads between work and home used by many people, junk food places popped up, nice new and modern places, cheap and easy to get a snack so one doesn’t have to cook. A $4 billion industry in New Jersey, USA, provides the chains with the newest artificial flavors, colors and smells, to let us think we can eat unlimited from it.
Food as commodity
Food isn’t only to feed us anymore; it is also a way to make profit. A large profit for only a handful of people. The food has to be produced as cheaply as possible, distributed cheaply, with a low pay for all the workers working in the whole and across all involved sectors. The interest of the food industry isn’t to feed people with good, healthy and tasty food, but to make profit from what we eat. Government involvement to protect us getting unhealthy is getting less and less, in fact, it supports the industry. In New York it is possible to get a cup of a near liter cola, or other soda. A body doesn’t need that at all, it simply is plain unhealthy (I’ll come back to that later). The mayor wanted to ban those ridiculous large sized amounts but got that much opposition to let the plan go. It even is said that in rich developed nations or upcoming nations, excessive consumption endangered sustainable development. In the big picture as food and energy are interlinked and on the other side in developing nations lack of consumption is endangering development too as it is a thread to destroy what is left just to have some income. That also works with the body, and excess of the wrong foods simply destroys our bodies and a lack of it too. In both parts of the world we are malnourished and when there is food available, the availability lies in unhealthy food that breaks down our immune system rather than strengthening it. Yet, the CEO’s and investors make money and that’s what it is about.
That fast pace of life, the drive for more, the drive for economy, the drive to fit in, that drive ultimately will do us harm. It is not sustainable, not for the individual nor for the environment and the economy will collapse at some point.
Doctors lacking attention to food
Many books are already written about healthcare in many different countries. How it used to be and how it is now. From all the complains people have, ‘we’ expect the doctor to look at the symptoms, suggest a cure to feel well again afterwards. I haven’t met many doctors putting attention and asking through on how one really feels, what one eats (unless it is obvious that someone has severe obesity), what stress the person has, and so on.
When I had my episode a few years back, I came to the hospital, talking groups, talking and relieving of feelings and emotions. Once in a while a 30 min conversation with the doctor and he put me on medicine. I lied, or at that moment, I was avoiding realizing what the cause of the symptoms were and the doctors never asked through. I was the one looking critically at myself, I was the one reading about food, learning about it, and most of all, trying out to see the difference. That knowledge should be available and taught from school or at least getting information from doctors. My situation was quite extreme but still, everyone knows that body and mind cooperate. When you feel sick, your mind isn’t as active as it can be. Vice versa too, when the mind is off, your body also reflects on it. A common cold is just a couple of days and then it’s back to action again. A cancer changes the perception of the mind and makes one behave and think different as what one normally does. Vice versa too, when the mind is under a lot of stress the ability to take physically care of yourself becomes less as well and that is moving on thin ice.
I would like to see doctors being more proactive, providing knowledge so the people can make better choices. As in all learning situations, the learner is the only one who is responsible to learn and to apply it, yet, the educator (parent, teacher, doctor) is responsible for providing the right information and give the learner the opportunity to learn.
My mother and many people with her, fell in a trap, slowly being overwhelmed by the changing culture, food culture and pace of life. That makes cancer also a welfare disease. Lacking knowledge of what is sustainable for your body on the long run and inadequate knowledge to see it, recognize it and deal with it properly.
Your mind is as a computer, your senses a modem with a firewall behind it and the world ‘out there’ the internet. There are some new theories who makes this analogy. The internet is bombarded with information, there is so much available and now and many years after internet exists we cannot just tell what is true, good, bad, helpful or potentially destroying us. In the beginning the broadband and modem had enough capacity to have that overview and the processors were powerful enough to compute all the income properly and to discard what was harmful. The firewall easily could block all attacks so the mind/computer was being kept clean.
But nowadays, there are so many attacks, the internet is so large, the bandwidth reached its capacity and the possibility to make good choices becomes more difficult. The firewall is adapting to a new set of standards, we see and hear about things that were absurd only 20 years ago but slowly becomes acceptable. The firewall doesn’t have enough capacity to block and the processor/mind starts making wrong choices. There are viruses infecting our minds and take other things for granted what we wouldn’t have decades ago.
Food as such isn’t harmful at all, also not a Mc Donald’s once in a while. Stress also can be positive and a ‘modern’ lifestyle also doesn’t do harm per definition. Firewalls would just let all that information pass. It is the long term damage that is important to realize, the long term wrong food, the long term stress, the long turn off-balanced modern living style that does harm.
The change is going so slow in many countries that it almost is unrecognizable. When I was a child I remember smaller chains, local stores, even a neighborhood service who brought fresh produce near the doorstep. It took 20 years to what it is now in the Netherlands. In fact, compared with the US it is not that bad as there it completely is turned into a junk food culture. In upcoming nations, the change is much faster and the present Y2K generation wants to lift on the rapid progress and economic lift but not realizing its health consequences.
All our minds are seeing a monotone picture of the same and our senses have more and more difficulties to see what actually is good and what is not. Our brains cannot register, the bandwidth is reaching its limit and our senses are not looking critically to what we need but what we ‘want’ instead and are focusing on getting it when we don’t have what we want.
Part II Different foods and functions
Let us take time to shut off the internet, just flick the switch and start using our own senses. How do you feel? What is going on? Is what you are doing the right thing to do? Do we understand what we are doing and do we agree with it? Do we understand the concept of food, what is needed to boost our immune systems, to add on health and be well off to fight and prevent diseases?
Let us ignore what’s out there and start using our own common sense. It actually is very easy once you understand.
First of all, the basic expression: “You are what you eat” But then what to eat?
As I said before I don’t want to prescribe a diet, I cannot and don’t want to take that responsibility. I just want to present logic and an explanation to what food does with your body.
The first logic that comes to mind is not to eat things of which you cannot buy all the ingredients separately. When you read the labels, much is added, chemicals, flavor, scent, and other additives that keeps the food well for a longer period of time. Those so-called ingredients are plain toxic when you eat them in large quantities. Yes, it is safe to eat in small amounts but over a 30-year time period all those small amounts do become significant. Especially when you eat only food with additives in it and don’t compensate it with fresh produce.
Look, too, at the quantities that is in it, and imagine if you’d eat that quantity if it is in its original state?
Would you eat a x amount of fat, sugar, oil, meat, whatever, at once? Or is it actually too much?
When we are strolling through the grocery store, we never ever look carefully at the ingredients, so we are unaware of what we actually put in our mouths. In that ignorance we give our money to CEO’s and harming our own health.
If we choose to eat what we can touch independently it becomes automatically much harder to get hold to that food, it takes more time to prepare it, and to shop for it. It requires a change in lifestyle and it is up to you, the value that you want to give to your own body how much you are prepared to change. It needs an increased cooking skill too, to be able to cook the food that you also like to eat. Knowledge of spices and herbs for flavor, knowledge of cooking times, and flavor combinations. In the end it will be worth it, yet, it is on your own initiative to make the change you would like to see. The market isn’t going to change; the doctor’s advice isn’t nor that education at schools will improve.
The science behind food
20 years ago we could buy ‘whole milk’ fresh and uncooked. Whole yoghurt, butter, and so on. All that was changed to low fat pasteurized products as, then, they believed that fat made fat and by pasteurizing the shelf life increased a lot. Many bacteria die during the refining and all that disturbs our inner balance as we need them.
Fact is, fat does not make fat! Fat from animals have many vitamins we need; it makes you satisfy faster so you eat less. We cannot eat just unlimited amounts of it, but by definition, fat does not make fat.
There are 4 kinds of fat:
- Liquid, such as oils
- Solid, such as butter and animal fat
- A mix, such as fat that becomes liquid quite fast in higher temperatures.
- Natural, such as fat in nuts, avocado, coconut, etc.
Our bodies need fat, the right fat it is. It protects our cells and organs and holds water. It is a protective healthy substance that only is for our own benefit.
Yet, when fat is heated too much, such as in a frying pan, then the structure of the fat is changing, and it becomes harmful.
The good fats are in olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocado as that is unrefined. Second best is butter and then the rest. The less refined and less hot it is the better it is for our bodies and you simply can enjoy eating it.
During the change from whole products to low fat products, the taste mustn’t be affected. Our taste buds, human taste buds that is, are sensitive to sweet, fat (savory) and salt. Those 3 tastes are commonly the most popular. So the savory was replaced with sugar to keep on giving us the same sensation.
During the last 10 years or so, the amount of sugar (and sugar alternatives) is roaring! There is so much of it in basically all we eat!
Our bodies change sugar, lactose and fructose (“sugar” from diary and fruit) into glucose and that gives the energy the body needs. When the intake of any sugar becomes sky high in a short time, drinking a cola or something, our bodies feel an energy kick. That means that during eating you feel elevated, “high”, good, energetic and satisfied. But! The body goes into a deep red zone! There is simply way too much energy the body can handle so the body fights back and releases insulin. That insulin is breaking down the glucose and changes it into fat that will be stored in the body till the body needs to use it for more energy to stay active.
However, the body doesn’t feel satisfied throughout the process of changing glucose into fat! The body feels hungry again before that process is finished. Thus the body craves for more food before the previous intake was processed, so this continues all the time. And that makes people fat.
It isn’t only making us fat. The energy peeks in our blood lever all the time and the emergency system activated all the time (insulin) is taking its toll on the body as well.
In 2014 I quit sugar all together. No sugar. Nothing. No sweets, no added sugar in the tea or coffee, no soda, none of that. I felt that I needed to adjust to it but afterwards, my mind was clearer, I could concentrate better, I felt more energetic and the tiredness after a meal became much less. The insulin levels are more steady and my body is more at ease and can concentrate on something else. I prevented to get diseased like diabetic as main, heart diseases and others as well.
Protein are the building blocks of cells. The body needs it to maintain or build muscles for example. Protein is the main denomination for amino acids. Amino acids are molecules in different strains that makes our cells grow. Any cells. We do need a good portion of proteins to have a good foundation for cell development/maintenance. Amino acids are in 2 classes, the essential acids and non-essential acids. Opposing vitamins, I’ll come back on that later, amino acids cannot be created, all of it has to be eaten.
The source of protein is in vegetables, legumes and in animals. Protein from animals are also called ‘complete protein’ because it holds all essential amino acids. Vegetables do not. Therefore, it is important, for the vegetarians and vegans, to have sufficient knowledge to what acid is in which vegetable to prevent not getting enough of protein. As the body is made out of 20% protein it is important also to eat the same proportion of it.
The body is breaking down all the protein in the right acids, which enters the blood stream and then it arrives all at the right places.
That’s why it is important to eat protein rich foods. Many people don’t like vegetables and either skip it or don’t eat enough of it and that’s a shame. Meat is a great source, it has plenty, enough not to eat meat in all the amounts we are made to believe it’s healthy to eat. A couple of times a bit a week is enough. Protein also is in egg and milk (whole milk that is).
Fibers cannot be digested by the human body. We don’t have the enzymes to break them down and to absorb them. Fibers are healthy though! It keeps the system working and as they don’t break down and go straight down through the stomach and the rest of the intestines, it takes waste with it too and has a cleaning effect. Once can see it in their droppings. Healthy droppings are quite consistent and one should be able to hold it in the hands. If the droppings are too liquid, then the chance is big that one didn’t eat enough fibers ‘to hold the shit together’.
In the above I talked about macronutrients, minus the sugar. They are called macro because the body needs a lot of it as it provides us the energy we need to make it through the day.
These macronutrients are measured in calories (1 calorie is the energy to heat 1 gram of water with 1 degree Celsius). Both in carbohydrates and in protein is about 4 calories per gram and 9 calories in fat.
We do need a lot of carbs because it gives us the energy we need, easily to use by the body, transport fuel for cells, steers our organs, and transports waste (to be transformed in poo and pee). It is very important not to deny our bodies this.
Yet, there is a but.
Vegetables are relatively low on carbs and one can eat loads of it without having to worry about getting too many carbs and calories that will be too much for the body to consume. Starch on the other hand are carb-bombs. There are loads of carbs stored in starchy food, such as grains (including rice) and its derived products (pasta, spaghetti), potatoes, and the lot. They are nature’s design to store the extra plant’s energy to reuse later. Starchy foods are easy to prepare, gives a lot or carbs and gives us that feeling of satisfaction and stills our appetite.
So, eating too many starchy foods gives too much energy and then the same story as in the sugar part comes up. There will be too much glucose in the blood and insulin has to break that down and change it into fat. So our fat cells become our “starch storage” and the body uses it in times of hunger.
But, there is more!
One carb isn’t the other carb. Some carbs are simple and some are complex. From the simple carbs, the body absorbs it with about 30 calories a minute, while, on the other hand, complex carbs are absorbed with about 3 calories a minute. That explains why the insulin is peeking very fast and if you’d make a time line you’d see pyramids next to each other. During eating you feel fine and energetic but after a meal, when the body is absorbing and making insulin, you feel tired and without energy. A balanced line should look like waves. So when lunch is digested, the same amount of energy is used, the line goes down, the body gets hungry and safely one can eat again.
Bad fat, alcohol, soda’s, sugar, juicy fruits (yes they are healthy, no, don’t eat too many of them), refined products, such as: white bread, white rice, white pasta and all that is premade. Oh, and junk food and all deep fried food. Also, the extra ketchup, sauces, additives, that makes food “tastier” is stuffed with all kinds of crap that is harming the body. It is much better to add some olive or coconut oil with some flaxseed or other spices to flavor the food.
All essential nutrients have been taken out of the refined food, sugar and other things were added so the body digests it faster, one is hungry faster and needs more food, thus more profit.
Solid fruit (avocados), vegetables, animal products, legumes, whole foods, such as: brown bread, brown rice, brown pasta.
This is food in its unrefined state and all elements still are in it. The fibers, structures, taste, vitamins and minerals, etc, etc. Because it is complex it takes much more time for the body to digest it and, thus, the calorie intake goes much slower.
It is best to eat bits and pieces during the day than to eat 3 times a day a lot. That too prevents the glucose level to rock and the body can focus on properly digesting the food getting the maximum out of it.
Water is life. Our bodies are made up for the biggest part of water and we simply need a lot of it. 2 liters a day at least. We need water to regulate body temperature and to provide the means for nutrients to travel to all your organs. Water also transports oxygen to the cells, removes waste, and protects your joints and organs. You expel water when you urinate, when you breathe and when you sweat. About 20% of your water is replaced by the food you eat. The rest comes from drinking.
Vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals. There are many different types of micronutrients. The human body needs them all, in very small amounts. They are found in foods that are fresh and unprocessed, like the fruits and vegetables. When food is refined the vitamins and minerals are taken out to be added in later again, sometimes… Those are chemical based vitamins and minerals and don’t function at all as the natural vitamins and minerals do.
The well-known vitamins are A, B, C, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium and so on. Better eye sight, resistance to fight diseases, stronger bones, better muscles and all.
They don’t give life and one can’t eat massive amounts from it as in macronutrients, but surely, they are very important! Always eat fruit, cook with herbs and garlic, ginger, etc. Good for the flavor as well!
1/3rd 2/3rd rule
Different studies have shown that this rule is the better one. 1/3rd of protein based food, a typical portion fits in the palm of your hand and is no thicker than your hand, and, 2/3rd of fruit and vegetables. As you can see, there isn’t any starchy food. When you still want to have that, use the complex starch but with caution in little bits. Eat this 3 times a day and carrots, nuts, avocadoes in between, exercise, and all will be completely fine.
Part III Conclusion
I felt the need to study more about food because of my own wellbeing and how food influenced me. Not only directly related to the condition but also in the shocking food culture in the USA. It made me open my eyes, understand the bigger picture and I hope I passed exactly that on, the bigger picture and the science behind food and what it does to the body.
In the USA, before I left to the Netherlands, I was mainly eating healthy in the right proportions and I felt very good about it. It took some time to adjust, to step away from 2/3rd of starch to the above rule of thumb, but when I did, it was very good. Unfortunately, here with my parents, I cannot do the same regularly and I do feel that.
It is important to always listen to your body, and eat according your taste as well. Be aware and educated in what food does to your body and adapt the diet to it. We still are what we eat and our health is all we have left even if we lose everything else.
Many times we just go with the flow, but, we don’t consider if that flow is the right one or if we should flow on a different flow.
Despite the differences my mother and I do have, I love her. Again, I can’t tell if she could have prevented getting cancer the first time, or the second, if she has been eating well over the years. I do know that by eating the right food the probability of not getting it only increases.
Now I feel that I have the responsibility over me, my body, my health, and I want to take care of what I am eating. I am not mister perfect at all, I do need to move a lot more than I am doing now for example, yet, I also feel I have the responsibility towards people who are close to me so I won’t regret having done something, nor regretting not having done something. It is a balance between feeling good towards myself and other people feeling good towards myself. That spreads positivity, optimism, and no worries about health and that’s a great good.
My mother will pass away somewhere “soon”, who knows how soon. She won’t benefit anymore from a completely healthy lifestyle in which she can be a rabbit too eating vegetables. For the ones being sick now, I do advice trying to do what is in reach to get well, or be well as long as possible. Not only for your own sake but for the ones close to you as well as they do are worried, more than you probably realize. I hope you are inspired by this explanation and can use it as your first step to learn more for everyone’s benefit and finding your way to become healthy again. For the ones who are healthy and don’t eat properly, I hope you too are inspired and decide to change habits, eating pattern for your own benefit and loved ones. For the ones who are healthy and eat healthy, maybe you got something new you can use and/or see this as motivation to keep on doing good.
Health is too good to loose – take care.