For the purpose of this post I would like to define myself under three important points; 1. I am a PhD researcher with an unwavering curiosity; 2. I live with stage four ovarian cancer; 3. I LOVE food – it is quite possibly one of my favourite things. Together, these three defining factors create a woman with a passionate interest in how the food we put into our bodies affects us physically (and emotionally). However, in my search for the ‘optimal diet’ I’ve discovered that it is not as straightforward as we might like.
Let me explain.
Extensive researching led me to the conclusion that meat is bad for you. In particular, if you have or have had cancer, there are many studies that show that the hormones in non organic meat can increase the rate at which cancer spreads. The same can be said about eating a diet high in protein. However (and it’s a big ‘however’) the’Paleo Diet’ encourages that we eat a diet close to that which would have been eaten by cave men. It advocates a diet high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, oils AND meat. So is it healthy to eat meat or not?
The confusion doesn’t end there either. Many people thriving with cancer, or seeking to reach the point where they can thrive, advocate ‘bone broth’ as a way of boosting their immune system and gut health. What is bone broth? It is, basically, animal bones boiled with vegetables and the resulting liquid is drunk as a ‘broth’. It is what our grandmothers did instinctively for years when they were making a soup or gravy.
Confused? I’m sorry to say that this is just the start in our quest for the ‘perfect’ diet.
Let’s take a minute now to think about sugar. We all know it’s bad right? I’ve written a whole other blog post about why I don’t eat sugar and it is featured as a whole section in my book. However, what do we mean when we say ‘sugar’? Do we mean the white stuff we may add to our tea or coffee? Or does it go beyond this? Can we eat fresh fruit? What about dried fruit? What about fruit juice? Do these negatively impact our bodies in the same way as table sugar?
Well, again, it’s not a straightforward answer. Firstly, let’s get something clear – everything you eat is converted to glucose by your body when you eat it. Yes, everything. This is not an issue. It is, of course, a natural and healthy response. However, refined sugar doesn’t need to go through this process and has no nutritional value, hence the poor health implications when we indulge. However, many sugar free diets advocate no dried fruit or dried sweet vegetables, no fruit juice and only a couple of pieces of whole fruit a day due to their high fructose content.
That seems straightforward enough, but hang on a moment. Let’s look at the raw food diet. It advocates eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables (and greens) and has a particular focus (if you are to believe raw ‘cook’ books) on raw snacks containing dried fruit and vegetables. Even if we are not to go completely raw, and instead want to add smoothies and juices to our diet, we will find that most recipients are high in fruit so that they are more palatable to someone used to a westernised, high sugar diet. So are these not as healthy as we are led to believe? Is drinking a juice or smoothie with several pieces of fruit as ‘bad’ for your body as drinking a can of fizzy juice? Well, if we were to look only at the sugar (namely the retrospective fructose and glucose contents) then the answer would be yes. These, ‘healthy’ drinks would likely have a higher sugar content. However, it can also be argued that a can of fizzy juice has no nutritional value, whereas a fruit juice or smoothie is high in nutrients.
The list of controversies goes on.
We are often told to eat a low fat diet. Without the right information this can lead us to turn to food labelled as ‘low fat’. These, however, are extremely high in sugar. Also, nuts and oils are amongst some of the most nutritious foods we can eat and yet they also have the highest fat contents. Sweeping statements like ‘eat low fat’ fail to recognise not only the difference between different types of fat in our food but also that the fat we eat doesn’t make us fat. Yes, you read that right, fat doesn’t make us fat; sugar does.
So what the fuck can I eat?
The confusion doesn’t end here. In fact, I could probably right another book dedicated solely to food and, who knows, maybe one day I will. However, in the meantime, the brief exploration above may leave you questioning “what the fuck can I eat?” If this sums up how you feel then rest assured, you are not alone.
In the past two years since my diagnosis I have played around with my diet in my quest for the optimal diet for my body. I have gone from a high protein diet to a vegan. I have gone from a sugar junkie to avoiding the white stuff. I’ve consumed green smoothies high in fruit and I’ve also had weeks where I’ve avoided fruit altogether. I’ve gone from cooking a different meal each night to eating 100% raw for nearly two months. I’ve studied a range of diets and I’ve used myself as a test subject. I’ve also had ‘blow out’ weekends were I’ve eaten whatever I want – from meat to sugar and back to salads again.
This is what I’ve learned:
- Each of our bodies are uniquely wonderful and special. There is no ‘one size fits all’ diet. Whilst there are some guiding principles, ultimately, we should learn to listen to our bodies.
- Eat the rainbow – ensure your plate is always filled with a range of colours.
- Processed foods.
- Anything labelled low in fat.Whenever you read these words, replace them with the phrase ‘chemical shit storm’. Low fat products will do you no good, ever.
- Foods with a long list of ingredients (in particular any that you can’t pronounce).
- Whole foods
- Organic foods (wherever possible)
- Greens. Salad, kale, hard, herbs, sprouts etc are all incredibly nutritious foods and essential in your daily diet if you are seeking optimal health.
- Fruit. Favour fresh fruit and always eat more vegetables than fruit.
- Nuts, seeds and oils.
Some things to think about
- If you want to eat meat try to ensure that it is lean cuts and that it is organic. Also, try not to have meat every day.
- If you want a sweet treat, favour a home made cake over a processed bar of chocolate. Also keep it as a treat, rather than a daily ritual. Ideally, learn how to make some sugar free treats.
- Favour smoothies over juices.
- Favour organic dairy wherever possible.
- Reduce (or illuminate) your consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
A Parting Thought
In our quest for health it is very easy to get obsessive about the food we eat. I know, I’ve been there. However, ultimately if you eat an organic, unprocessed and varied diet then you are doing great. Don’t punish yourself if you want to eat a piece of cake one day. Simply enjoy the cake and move on. Life is far to short to punish ourselves for the food we do and don’t eat.
- I’m mainly vegan – sometimes however I enjoy a pouched egg, fish or even (on rare occasions) a steak.
- I’m mainly sugar free – sometimes however I indulge in a piece of cake.
- I’m 100% gluten free (allergy)
- I’m 100% dairy free (intolerance)
- I’m 80% raw – I tried 100% raw and I felt great, however, my love of curry and baked potatoes (and my realisation that life is short) was too strong.
- I eat a variety of greens daily
- I eat at least 8 different vegetables every day
- I eat no more than 2 pieces of whole fruit every day
- I eat a lot of nuts, seeds and oils
- I avoid processed foods, choosing whole foods.
- I make food using fresh, organic ingredients.
- I make a smoothie everyday and avoid juice. However, I also sometimes enjoy a glass of apple juice as a treat.
- I never drink alcohol, fizzy juice or caffeine.
- I use spices, herbs, garlic and ginger every day.
Ultimately I enjoy food and I fuel my body without punishment.
I encourage you to do the same. Stop punishing yourself and embrace your diet. Make small changes to including more nutritious food and stop judging yourself for wherever you may be in your food journey. No one is ‘perfect’. I’ve just been awarded ‘health blogger of the year 2017′ and even I like cake on occasion.
Love and light, Fi xxx