I am a firm believer in knowing the method to the madness. Of inserting a “why” before everything I set out to do, followed by a “how”. We hear all the time what we “should” be doing for our health, but what is usually left unsaid is why we should be doing it. Or if we do hear the “why”, it is usually basic and uninformative. But I am a believer in information, because if we have all of the information then we can formulate both an opinion, and a plan. It is very difficult to find motivation to make important life changes just because someone says we should. But if we have all of the information and thoroughly understand it, then making that change becomes so much easier.
So, here we are, talking about health. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to lower your cholesterol, or your blood sugar. Maybe you’ve recently had a diagnosis that is hard to swallow. Maybe your doctor told you that you need to eat healthy and exercise, or that you need to cut certain things out of your diet…but didn’t really explain why or where to start. If any of this sounds like you, then you came to the right place.
First, I want to tell you a brief story about cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia about a decade ago. The doctors gave us all of the information about the disease…what it does to the body, what to expect going forward, what treatment options will be and when to start them, and even lifestyle changes to make. She has a fantastic doctor at Siteman’s Cancer Center at Barnes Hospital in St Louis. Siteman’s is one of the top 10 cancer treatment centers in the country, and we are fortunate to live close enough to have access to it. Her doctor has been nothing short of amazing, and the information we’ve been given has been wonderful.
And yet…it wasn’t enough. Not for me. I am the kind of person who needs to get to the root of things. I need to dig deeper and deeper until there is nothing left to uncover. Sometimes that brings me undue stress…because when dealing with people, we often can never get to the root of things or understand their thinking or why they do things. But when it comes to cancer…I can get to the root of it. So that is what I did.
“This most likely comes from exposure to a harsh chemical, like herbicides and pesticides.” “There is a strong link between nitrates/nitrites in processed meat and leukemia.” This wasn’t good enough. Sure, that might be what set it off…but why do those things cause cancer? I researched how cancer begins (damage to DNA that doesn’t get repaired, then mutates, leaves cells unprotected so that cancer begins to grow), what causes DNA damage (chemical exposure, UV exposure, environmental hazards, infections and viruses, even normal metabolic functions…it’s a long list), what repairs damaged DNA (enzymes in the body), and most importantly…what feeds cancer cells once they are already formed after gene mutation (that is what I will get to).
Moving on to diet. In the last 10 years I have done enough research on the links between diet and cancer, that I could write a pretty profound thesis if I needed to. In the process, I have learned a lot about the way our bodies metabolize food, what nutrients, chemicals, hormones, etc. are released in digestion, and the way those things are absorbed by and interact with our bodies. Not only do I know how diet effects cancer, but also how it leads to heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Things that we often think of as hereditary, like type 2 diabetes, are almost entirely based on diet and lifestyle. A genetic history does not mean you are going to get it, so you may as well throw up your hands, say “oh well”, and then “pass me the fried chicken”. A genetic history means you are more able than the average person, due to gene functions inherited from your immediate family, to get whatever your parents have…but it is not a guarantee that you will. And if you live a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, the odds are extremely high that you never will. This is especially true in cancer – only 3% of the time does cancer happen no matter what you do. The other 97% depends entirely on how you live and what you eat.
The thing is, what we eat, drink, and put in and on our bodies doesn’t just effect one thing. It effects everything. Every cell in our bodies from the hair on our heads to the toenails on our feet are effected by our diet and lifestyle. Which is why if you are sick in one part of your body, then you are sick everywhere. That’s why you don’t want to just treat a symptom with medication…you want to treat the body as a whole with a proper diet and lifestyle.
Moving on to the nitty gritty. Doctors often look to medicine to treat illness, and when they give diet information it is usually vague and rarely contains a “why”. In my grandmother’s case, she was told not to eat red meat, dairy or sugar. That was it. Just don’t eat them. She was also told not to eat honey or mushrooms, and no more than three eggs per week with the yolks fully cooked, because these things contain bacteria. The assumption was made that she would just “know” that the reason she needs to avoid those bacteria is because she has a compromised immune system (CLL is an immune system cancer) that can’t sufficiently fight bacteria. But it was not explained.
The connection between red meat, dairy and sugar, and cancer, was something I was able to shed some light on for her.
I am including all meat, because my research has shown that animal protein in general, not only red meat, does all of the following:
Heart and cholesterol – Meat is high in cholesterol, and in fat (as compared to plant-based proteins). It increases the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, while doing very little to boost the good. High cholesterol and high fat causes damage to your blood vessels and your heart, creating a risk for heart attack (inflammation and your heart working overtime) or a stroke (blockage in the arteries from high cholesterol and fat that dislodges and flows to the brain).
Diabetes – Diabetes is commonly misconceived as an inability to regulate sugar, which is true in a way. But once again, I would rather get to the root of the problem – fat. Diabetes is caused by a high fat diet. Having a lot of fat in your blood inhibits your body’s ability to absorb glucose through the walls of your blood vessels so that it can be stored in your body as a reserve energy source. This means more glucose is being left in your blood than is normal, so your pancreas begins cranking out more insulin to try to combat the high glucose. Eventually, your pancreas can’t keep up and it “breaks”, no longer able to produce the amount of insulin needed to regulate your blood sugar, and diabetes is born. So you can see that the underlying culprit is not sugar, but fat.
Cancer – this one is a doosey. Red meat, or meat in general, is not good for your overall health. But where cancer is concerned, that is where it really earns a bad rep. This is where we get into what actually happens in your body as it begins to break down and process meat. Yes, it puts bad cholesterols and fats into your blood stream, which coat your vessels and make your heart work overtime, and contribute to diabetes, not to mention feeds cancer cells. But it does much more than that.
During the digestion process after eating meat, free radicals are released that cause DNA damage. Equally important is a hormone that is produced in abnormally-high levels when we eat animal proteins. It is called 1GF-1 (more information here), and it is a growth hormone. It is high in children who are experiencing accelerated growth, but it drops drastically in adults. When we eat a lot of animal protein the liver cranks this hormone out in high volume and it stimulates cell growth, but not the good kind. In adults, it causes rapid proliferation of cells which increases the likelihood of gene mutations. It also stimulates accelerated growth in cancer cells that already exist in the body.
So why is red meat such a strong focus over other meats when it comes to cancer? That is honestly a bit of a mystery to me, because everything I’ve read about red meat is also true of all other meats. Red meat is higher in fat than poultry, and since fat is a main feeder of cancer cells that is likely why it’s placed above poultry…but poultry does contain quite a bit of fat as well and should not get a free pass, especially since protein is as big a cancer culprit as fat, and poultry actually contains more protein than red meat.
The only other thing I can come up with that makes it worse than the rest, is iron. Red meat is especially high in iron, which can become oxidized in the same way that fats in meat can (this is also true of preservatives in processed meats), which makes it more carcinogenic. Another thing you will sometimes hear if you have cancer is to not eat fried foods — which again, fats, such as oils used in deep frying, become oxidized during the cooking process making them carcinogenic.
In all honesty – just take everything I said above about eating meat, and transplant it here. Because everything above also rings true for dairy, as it is an animal protein.
However, dairy takes it a couple of steps further. Let’s talk:
We hear it all the time — a diet high in dairy protects your bones! I am here to tell you that is misinformation at its finest. Is dairy high in calcium? Yes. Do we need calcium for bone health? Yes. Totally makes sense then, right? Eat more dairy!
Here is the problem. Dairy, especially in its unfermented form such as milk and ice cream, raises acidity and inflammation in our bodies. (Pause here to say that cheese and yogurt, which are fermented dairy products, actually have not been shown to do this) So how do our bodies neutralize this acidity? By drawing calcium out of our bones!! This is why America, one of the highest consumers of milk in the entire world, also has among the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world! If it is true that drinking lots of milk protects our bones…then osteoporosis in America should be virtually non-existent. But it is actually very much the opposite.
My least-favorite six-letter word. You read above how meat contributes to cancer, and the same is true for dairy. Except it takes one step further. There is a protein specifically in dairy products that has been shown to stimulate cancer cell growth, called casein. Add that to the already carcinogenic properties of consuming all animal proteins in general, and dairy actually packs a one-two punch on the cancer front.
First of all, what is sugar? Let’s step outside of the box a little bit and think beyond cookies, cake, and tiny white crystals. Sugar = glucose, and that is what you really need to know. The reason you need to know this is because sugar leads you to think of sweets, but glucose goes deeper than that. Any carbohydrate that has been stripped of it’s nutrients and highly processed to make it white, soft and pliable, becomes glucose when it is digested. That means white bread, white pasta, white rice, white crackers…any carbohydrate that is not a real, true, whole grain (and let me tell you that most “whole grain” products on the store shelves are actually only pretenders) you can just go ahead and add to the list as sugar.
Diabetes – I explained the root cause of diabetes above, but now I will address the symptom that we actually see; high blood sugar. Eating sweets is the quickest way to send a surge of glucose into your bloodstream, which is why people with diabetes are told to stay away from it. But eating simple carbohydrates like those I mentioned above, while they take longer to process and break down than sugar does, also become glucose in your bloodstream.
Cancer – The link between sugar and cancer is pretty simple. Glucose is one of the two (the other being fat) primary feeders of cancer cells in our bodies. And remember, sugar = glucose. More glucose in the body means more energy for cancer cells to grow and multiply.
Surprised to see this as a category? You shouldn’t be, because it is directly related to what Americans believe is healthy. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity — all of these things have spiraled out of control. In fact, over the last 40-50 years the occurrence of each has increased at an astounding rate. Why? Environmental factors (have you seen the round-up stuff in the news lately?), and a diet and lifestyle born of both convenience, and the good ol’ government feeding us dietary recommendations based on subsidies and lobbying of the farming industry rather than what is actually good for us.
Think about the ads you’ve seen on TV. “Milk; it does a body good.” “Beef; it’s what’s for dinner.” What about those really annoying corn syrup commercials that were floating around 10-15 years ago? But riddle me this — when was the last time you saw a commercial promoting asparagus? Sweet potatoes? What about blueberries or quinoa? The answer is, you haven’t. Why? Because there is not big money or lobbying linked to any of those foods. The standard American diet is the product of corruptive influence over government departments (which then give us dietary guidelines to follow based on that influence), lobbying, and subsidies (which is why highly processed corn-and-soy based foods, as well as foods full of corn syrup, are so much cheaper than fruits and veggies, and why you don’t see such vast supermarkets like ours in other Western countries).
We have all been duped and misinformed. But the real information is out there, and I’ve found it. I didn’t much care about my diet and what I was consuming until, like most, I had a reason to. My grandma’s diagnosis was a wakeup call that lead me to learning the facts about diet and what our bodies need. And if you stick around, I will share that information with you and help you find your way to a healthy life.
Up next on the blog:
I will get deeper into the things that cause DNA damage and lead to gene mutations, as well as how DNA damage is repaired, and how your diet can help that process. That post will be primarily about cancer, but is an important component to overall health, and helps explain how I chose my own personal diet.
Also coming up on the blog:
- what my own diet looks like and how/why I chose it
- how to choose safe personal care products and household cleaners
- how to customize a diet that works for you and your lifestyle
- decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
- meal planning, creating a shopping list, and prepping whole foods
- plant-based vs. vegan vs. Mediterranean diets
- how to break free from your defaults and re-learn how to cook and eat healthy
I’ve always shared healthy recipes on the blog, but due to recent events my focus at home has shifted, which means it is also shifting on the blog. I want to dig deeper with you on health and lifestyle, and share tips and tools on how to achieve a healthy life as opposed to just giving you recipes (which I will still be sharing, don’t worry!). I hope you like the changes. I can’t wait to grow in health with you!