My last SharePost mentioned a recent University of California study that reported moderate exercise, teamed with a healthy diet, reduced the risk of death from breast cancer in women with early-stage disease by a whopping 50 percent. For the purposes of this study, moderate exercise equaled about three hours a week of brisk walking; and a “healthy diet” was defined as eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
So, how’s your diet?
Unhappy word, diet. For the vast majority of us, “diet” is something negative, connoting deprivation. And who among us wants to feel deprived, especially once cancer has invited itself into our lives? We already feel deprived enough of good health, of emotional serenity, of the belief we’ll live a long life. Stop eating our favorite foods, too? I don’t think so. Bring on the ice cream!
But “diet” doesn’t have to mean Atkins, South Beach, or Weight Watchers. It can simply mean what it truly DOES mean: what are you feeding yourself each day? Let’s start there, and throw away all the anxiety that accompanies the word. Because that anxiety is based on SO much more than food: body image, expectations (ourselves and society’s), and fear of change all play into this one innocent term. And that’s unfair.
Just for the moment, let’s forget the effect diet has on your looks. I know, I know, that’s the chief concern for most of us: how many calories (fat grams, carbs) can I consume today and not add another 1/4” to my waistline? But let’s think of diet as a positive: what can I put into my body that’ll decrease my risk of cancer recurrence? (And no, the answer isn’t a hot fudge sundae!)
“Five servings (or more) daily of fruits and vegetables.” That’s the current advice, per everyone from the government’s USDA food pyramid to that University of California study mentioned above. Amazing how simple it sounds. Surprising how few of us manage to eat those five servings every day. What’s stopping us? Time? Money? Lack of desire? Let’s break down those obstacles.
• Time. OK, this just plain shouldn’t be an issue. How long does it take to peel a banana? Or slice a tomato? Ah, you say, but those things involve trips to the supermarket… Yeah, and eating takeout Chinese or pizza involves a drive to the restaurant, or at least some phone time arranging delivery. Unless you never, ever, EVER grocery shop, time shouldn’t be a consideration. Follow these simple directions: On your way to the cereal aisle or frozen foods, stop by the produce section and pick out a head of lettuce, three pears, a small bunch of bananas, and a couple of cukes. Bingo. You did it.
• Money. Yes, depending on the season, fruits and vegetables can get pretty pricey. But think of the per-pound price of EVERYTHING you buy. “Pricey” for a pound of vegetables may be $3 or $4. How does that compare to a box of cereal? A frozen dinner? Ice cream or cheese, meat or fish? Purchase the fruits and vegetables on sale that week. If they’re still beyond your means, turn down the juice aisle and pick up a can of vegetable juice or unsweetened fruit juice (3/4 cup of which is a serving). Or buy a box of raisins (1/4 cup = one serving). Shop smart; fruits and vegetables should be one of the least expensive options during your trip to the store.
• Lack of desire. Ah-HA! The real crux of the matter. “I don’t like fruits and vegetables.” Sure you do. You just don’t recognize what you’re eating as “a serving of fruits and vegetables.” How about that salad you eat for lunch? Two cups of greens plus one cup of cut-up tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, or the other “leaf toppers” of your choice equals four (yes, FOUR) servings of vegetables–that’s 80 percent of your daily requirement right there! Add an apple at bedtime, or a banana on your morning cereal, and you’re golden.
Tired of salad? Roast some vegetables. This takes a TINY bit of effort, it’s true, but oh-so worth it. Coarsely chunk onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, summer squash, cauliflower… just about anything fairly substantial (e.g., not lettuce, not cucumbers; use your common sense.) Toss with a liberal amount of healthy olive oil and some salt. Roast in a 350°F oven till fairly soft and golden brown (varies by vegetable; about 30 to 90 minutes). You’ll be astounded at the sweet, compelling flavor of roasted vegetables, I promise. I wouldn’t eat steamed cauliflower on a bet, but roasted? Food of the gods. And the way veggies shrink as they roast, you could easily consume a full 5 servings in one delicious sitting.
How about fruit? There’s a HUGE universe of fresh fruit out there, waiting to be discovered. For top-notch flavor, try to buy fresh produce from your own local farms. I live for our apple season each year, when farmers flood the market with all kinds of snapping-crisp, sweet varietal apples. Ditto strawberries. But thanks to modern transportation, the growing season for just about anything is now year-round. So when local produce is too expensive, go with those Chilean peaches or California blueberries.
And fruit doesn’t have to be fresh. Are you a fool for canned pineapple? Go for it! Treat yourself to frozen raspberries: they’re relatively inexpensive (about $2.50 a package, which includes multiple servings), and they thaw almost immediately in your bowl of hot oatmeal. Dried apricots are a sweet snack, and just 1/4 cup is a full serving. Ditto raisins or prunes (er, “dried plums”). And don’t forget fruit juice; just make sure it’s 100 percent juice, preferably unsweetened. Orange, pineapple, grapefruit… six ounces (3/4 cup) of juice in the morning, and another glass mid-afternoon, and you’ve put two servings of fruit under your belt. Literally.
So tell me again why you can’t eat those five daily servings of fruits and vegetables? And “forgetting” is not a valid excuse, chemo-brain or no! Buy them. Keep them front and center, in the fridge or on the counter. Make ’em a part of your daily routine. Then go take a walk, and you’ve vastly improved your health. Plus, if you’re an early-stage survivor, lessened your risk of death from breast cancer.