Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Athlete/Anti-Cancer diet balance

 Even though I now consider myself a self-proclaimed "foodie", that has not always been the case.  As a child, I was a stereotypical "picky" eater.  I ate what tasted good to me.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit, that just happened to be a whole bunch of cereal, grilled cheese, spaghetti, steak, french fries, and chocolate milk.  As a poor college student, I ate what was cheap and/or free.  It wasn't until I became a competitive endurance athlete that I paid attention to the nutritional content of my food, however up until my initial diagnosis of breast cancer, my diet was still primarily the Standard American Diet with a side of extra veggies and fruits.

Since I couldn't control the fact that I had cancer, I decided to take control over what I could to support my health which resulted in a permanent, non-negotiable, nutritional overhaul.

I am not a trained nutritionist, nor do I consider myself an expert in nutrition. But as a self-proclaimed "foodie", I do know, with 100% certainty, that quality nutrition supports me in three key ways:

1. Proper nutrition supports athletic performance and aides in recovery
2.  Proper nutrition decreases risk of cancer
      (Note:  decreases risk, does not completely eliminate risk and/or cure)
3. When I eat well, I feel good!

I also know the Standard American Diet does not support me as an athlete, person who has undergone treatment for cancer, nor helps me to feel good.

There are as many 'diets' as there are 'opinions'.  There's Paleo, Vegan, Gluten-free, Ketogenic, Gerson, Macrobiotic, Low GI, to name just a few.   What is the best diet for an athlete?  What is the best diet to reduce risk of cancer?  What is the best diet for an athlete at high risk for cancer recurrence?  While the field of nutrition seems to be ever-evolving, I don't know if there is an absolute 'best' answer to any of those questions, I do know that I have spent a great deal of time, energy, and even money trying to figure out the best diet for me.  And just like the consensus of 'best' diet, my athlete/anti-cancer diet continues to evolve.

I have morphed from eating a healthy version of the Standard American Diet, to being (mostly) vegan, to my current more eclectic approach which I would classify as a 'Plant-based plus' diet.  Here are some key components to my diet and while at the moment I won't delve into the reasoning behind all of these choices, there is solid reasoning:

1. Eat lots of plants
2.  Avoid buying food with sugar as an ingredient including white sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.  I do eat foods that naturally contain sugar, such as fruit and (gasp!) dark chocolate, however I try to stick to fruit lower on the Glycemic Index and high quality dark chocolate with no added sugar.
3.  Avoid processed foods.  I rarely, rarely, rarely eat anything that comes in a box.
4.  Buy mostly organic.  Especially the dirty dozen. 
5.  Avoid GMOs (genetically modified foods). Note:  Most corn and soy is genetically modified.
6.  Limit animal protein.  I do eat eggs, beef, and bone broth in moderation.  It is always organic, grass-fed, and pasture raised as it is even more important to have high quality animal product than produce.
7.  No dairy.  No exceptions.
8.  Limit eating in restaurants.  I mostly save eating out for special occasions or when we're traveling.
9.  Limit gluten.  This is actually pretty easy as I don't eat many processed foods, however I do love bread.  More to come on my favorite high-quality bread and no it is not gluten free.
10.  Go high fiber.  I try to stick to the at least 1 gram of fiber for 10 grams carbohydrate rule.
11. Lots-o-spices.  I have yellow hand syndrome.  Tumeric on everything!  Cinnamon on everything!
12.  Matcha tea every morning

Do I think my diet helps support me as an athlete?  You bet!  Do I think that it is the 'best' diet for an athlete?  I don't know, but right now it is the best diet for me.  Do I think that my diet will prevent me from every having a cancer recurrence?  Nope.  There are no guarantees, but I also know that I need to do all I can to give myself my best shot at living a long, healthy, cancer-free life.  Perhaps most importantly, does my diet help me feel good in the here and now?  Most definitely!

So there you have it.  Stay tuned as I share some of my favorite meals, treats, products, and supplements as I navigate my way through the Athlete/Anti-Cancer diet balance.  I promise I will never tell anyone that they must follow my diet in order to be healthy, however I am always happy to share.  I'm also always looking to learn, so feel free to share with me.