Being powered by plants (or how to reverse chronic disease)

Time to tell a story against myself.

On Saturdays I like to post stories about people who have overcome cancer by taking control of their own health on the Essentially Being Facebook page – #SaturdaySurvivor. Usually I choose a story that has come to me from another website and that I’ve read over the previous week. But this last Saturday, I didn’t have one and so I went searching. I found one and posted it … without actually reading the story or watching either of the videos. I just posted it.

And then the lawyer in me said something along the lines of “What on earth do you think you are doing? You can’t post something when you don’t know what it says!” So I watched the first video on the page.

And boy, am I glad I did! Because I found out even more about the amazing benefits of being powered by plants when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Or actually, more to the point, I found out more about why meat and dairy aka animal products are making us sick. And how a plant-based whole foods diet can help us to lose weight and reverse chronic illness. How by eating plants, we can reduce or even ditch the medications we take.

You need to know the truth about food and why eating the right way can save your life – T Colin Campbell PhD, Co-Author of The China Study

It turns out that Candice Marie Fox used a cancer protocol developed by the Nutritional Oncology Research Institute (NORI). Another plant-based protocol but interestingly, one that uses a lot of fruit. In fact, some parts of it were all fruit.

“But doesn’t the sugar in fruit feed cancer?” That’s what I thought too. But the basic principal of the NORI protocol is to restrict the amount of methionine in the diet. And fruits are the lowest in this particular amino acid that feeds cancer. Apparently we’ve known this for over 40 years.

And guess which foods are highest in methionine? Well, it turns out that eggs and fish are highest. In the video, Candice said that she had changed her diet but that she’d been eating a lot of salmon and not getting better. As soon as she ditched the salmon and starting eating truckloads of fruit, her tumours shrank.

The next highest are chicken and turkey, followed closely by red meat including game. Cheese also features.

From the plant family, the only things said to have high methionine are spirulina, sesame flour and soy protein isolate.

Now methionine is important in our diets and we can develop a deficiency. But for those with tumour masses and wanting to eradicate cancer, a methionine restricted diet might just do the trick. It did for Candice and in this video, Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction, Dr Greger reviews the science.

As fate would have it, I’m also reading The China Study by T Colin Campbell at the moment. This book was the basis of the documentary Forks Over Knives. It sets out the case for eradicating all meat, dairy and eggs to reverse a number of chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity.

Why are meat and dairy making us sick?

The key issue is protein. And of course, if you are on a plant-based diet, everyone wants to know if you get enough protein. Well, after all I’ve been reading, I’ll be asking people if they get TOO MUCH protein!

First, we now know about the methionine connection and methionine is one of our protein building blocks.

Second, an excess of protein in the body can increase levels of Insulin Growth Factor-1. And high levels of IGF-1 promote cell division. Not only does this create a risk for cancer in the first place but because it encourages growth, IGF-1 also assists the process of metastasising ie once cancer cells break off from the primary site, IGF-1 helps them to travel and flourish elsewhere in the body. But this doesn’t happen when we eat plant proteins.

But another issue with an excess of IGF-1 is that it can suppress the production of Vitamin D in our body. And vitamin D deficiency is also an indicator for cancer risk. Vitamin D is essential for immune function.

Third, the protein in dairy products, casein, has been found to promote cancer in a number of different studies. Campbell was studying the effects of a carcinogen, aflatoxin (often found in or on peanuts which is why steering clear of peanuts is also a good idea for anyone recovering from a cancer), on mice. But it turned out that the variable that modulated cancer in the mice was not the aflatoxin, but casein. And by increasing and reducing the intake of casein, he was able to manipulate the cancer. Nutrition could turn the cancer “on” and “off”.

All this has resonated for me personally. In the two years leading up to my own diagnosis, I had given up refined sugar and increased my intake of meat and dairy, in the belief that I needed the protein and fats.

Fat intake increases with animal protein intake. And in the Nurse’s Health Study conducted by Harvard, “higher intakes of beef, pork, or lamb as a main dish, trans unsaturated fat, and saturated fat are associated with greater risk of non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” Yep! That makes sense to me.

In a nutshell, these are the reasons that just about every nutritional cancer protocol that exists recommends the elimination of animal products and fats from the diet. This may be extreme to many people. But cancer is usually diagnosed after years, if not decades, of a diet that is high in these things. It seems just good old common sense that to allow for accelerated healing, it is better that they not be consumed at all. For a good period of time.

Once we are well, we might want to introduce small quantities back into our lives but as there is often a risk of relapse, it would probably be insane to return to the pre-diagnosis diet. In You Can Conquer Cancer, Ian Gawler makes recommendations for a maintenance or wellness diet that includes the occasional piece of wild-caught fish or good quality eggs.

People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.
Wendell Berry

But cancer is not the only chronic disease fuelled by a diet high in animal-based foods. Other associated diseases are obesity, diabetes (also linked to the amount of sugar and starch in a diet high in refined processed foods), heart disease  and auto-immune diseases, like Graves disease and multiple sclerosis.

And in studies done on people suffering from these diseases, a plant-based whole foods diet has come up trumps. With little or no salt, oil or sugar that isn’t in fruit. A little olive oil or flaxseed oil added to dressings or after food is cooked is fine. But cooking with oil increases the risk of it turning rancid and then carcinogenic.

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So what does being powered by plants look like?

Well, it means eating virtually nothing except plants that haven’t been refined or processed. You might want to have a little meat or dairy but for optimum health, it’s a good idea to keep these to a minimum. If we look at the Blue Zones around the world – places where people live longer and without medications – their diets are based on vegetables, fruits, wholegrain (not white bread) and beans. They eat the occasional fish and other meat. There are other factors of course like exercise, fresh air and community. But overall their rates of cancer are significantly less than in other areas of the world – like Australia.

I’ll be honest, transitioning from the SAD (Standard Australian Diet or Standard American Diet) can be daunting. But it’s not difficult. Not really.

For most of us, the food we eat is a habit. And a habit is a program in our subconscious. But just because it’s a habit, doesn’t mean we can’t change it. It’s entirely possible for us to change. The work in neuroplasiticity proves that. It just takes a little bit of forward thinking and getting used to the changes.

So here are my top tips for shifting to being powered by plants:

To get started, be inspired by stories of people who have overcome supposedly “incurable” diseases by adopting plant-based diets. There are documentaries that you can easily watch online like Forks Over Knives, Food Matters (and then Food Matters TV has lots of other films), Hungry for Change and May I Be Frank.

Get plant-based recipe books and read them. Forks Over Knives have some great cookbooks and the Gawler Cancer Foundation cookbook, Eat Well, Be Well, is terrific. Another book I’ve enjoyed is The Happy Herbivore.

Buy some staples and have them on hand. These might include brown rice, different types of lentils and beans, spices. Most cookbooks will have a section on these and how to prepare them for cooking.

Start experimenting. I found that once I’d made a few plant-based meals, I got into the groove. Sure some of them can take a while, but once you work out the balance of nutrition you need for fuel, you’ll find yourself whipping up salads and soups in no time. I recently prepared a miso soup, complete with tofu, vegetables and noodles, in 15 minutes.

Be relaxed about protein. If you are eating the rainbow, fruits and vegetables of every colour, and a range of different whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, you will get more than enough. As long as I eat a specific protein source like tofu or tempeh or legumes once or twice a week, I seem to be fine. And my husband, who only eats the protein I give him, has more energy than ever, is losing weight rapidly, is off his blood pressure medication and is lifting heavier and heavier weights at the gym.

Supplement with vitamin B12. If you choose not to eat eggs or a little meat, then chances are that you will find it difficult to get any vitamin B12. We don’t need huge quantities of this but it’s not available in plants.

Don’t worry about how much you eat. It’s pretty normal for someone on a plant-based whole foods diet to eat a lot. Most people on such a diet will consume significantly more calories than someone eating meat and dairy. But they also have a higher rate of metabolism. Which is part of the reason this diet is great for weight loss. People are amazed at how much I put away. But it’s all good for me and there’s lots of fibre which will go straight through, so what’s the big deal?

Be patient with your tastebuds. It’s natural as humans to be attracted to fats and sugars. That’s why we eat too many of them. But after a time of not eating them, you will come to appreciate the incredible flavours plants have to offer. And find your mouth just feels a whole lot cleaner all the time. Oh and you’ll need less dental work!

Prepare for the protein questions. Refer people to big and strong animals that eat plants only. Elephants, giraffes and even our relatives, the gorillas and chimpanzees seem to get enough protein eating only plants.

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I’ve been on just about all plants for 6 months now (you might recall that I ate a little meat – calf’s liver and wild salmon after the great immune system crash). I still believe in listening to my body and had a couple of eggs last week. I feel great. Full of energy and my mind is clear.

And I love the food I eat. It feels alive. The colours are vibrant. And no being suffered to produce it.

So my story against myself has a happy ending. I learned more about the benefits of plants which always inspires me to put more effort into what I eat and hopefully, you’ve learned something that you can take away.

Have you been thinking about switching to a plant-based whole foods diet? What do you think is the biggest obstacle? Or have you made the switch? How do you find it and what tips do you have for a smooth transition? Let me know in the comments.

Be happy. Be well. Be powered by plants!

And so be it.

Jane x

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About Jane Treleaven

Jane Treleaven is a meditation teacher and health coach empowering people to be happy and well through just being, essentially being.

Comments welcome