Happy Belly Happy Heart

A blog dedicated to nutrition, wellbeing and happiness. I believe the key to a good life begins with what you choose to put into your body. A happy belly = a happy mind = a happy heart.

Nutrition in the Fight Against Cancer

lady fightingLike most people nowadays, I can count the number of cancer sufferers I know on both hands, in fact probably on both feet. Some of them have won their battle and been given the all-clear, but others have sadly been lost to us. This terrible disease is becoming more and more prevalent and I doubt I could find one person who hasn’t suffered themselves or know someone who has, be it a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance.

In my family one of my grannies and two of my aunts have had breast cancer and my Dad is currently battling with skin cancer, having been diagnosed just over two years ago. Four operations later, he’s lost one eye, had pieces removed from his cheek and neck and most recently underwent a muscle and skin graft from his chest to replace another section removed from his neck. After 10 hours of surgery he discovered he’d lost the ability to swallow. It turns out this is due to nerve damage, which has also been the cause of him losing most of the feeling down one side of his face and neck since the first operation two years ago.

Not being able to swallow means not being able to eat or drink. Or even to clear the saliva from your mouth. Swallowing is a natural reflex which we rarely think about, like blinking, but if you bring your awareness to the act of swallowing, even for 5 minutes, you realise just how many times a day we normally do it. Now try to imagine not being able to swallow. Difficult isn’t it? Even harder I would say than learning to live with one eye.

Because cancer is naturally on my mind, as well as nutrition, I’ve been thinking about how big a part our diet can play in our ability to prevent and fight diseases like cancer. Even more so now because my Dad is basically living on a diet of protein shakes injected through a tube into his stomach. I can’t help thinking that he’s not getting enough fibre, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients which surely his body needs to help fight the cancer in the first place.

I’ve heard about various miracle, and ordinary, foods in the fight against cancer so I’ve done a little research and thought I’d share my findings with you.

Apple Cider Vinegarapple with vinegar bottle

In this article from 2009 an American doctor reports that a few laboratory studies have found apple cider vinegar may be able to kill cancer cells or slow their growth but that the results are not very clear. This article refers to the same research but the studies have only been carried out on rats and the results themselves are not easy to find.
Studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can help with the blood sugar spikes associates with Type 2 diabetes, and many people swear by it for reducing acid reflux and indigestion. Nat Sisco, a health food store owner in Lisbon suggests that it could also aid in fighting cancer, as it breaks down food to alkaline mineral and reduces acid.“It makes your body more alkaline, which cancer does not like,” Sisco said.
Regardless of whether it has been scientifically proven, there are many personal stories to be found of people who believe apple cider vinegar has cured cases of cancer:
JackfruitJackfruit
The Asian jackfruit is purported to have cancer-fighting properties due to the levels of isoflavones, antioxidants and phytonutrients it contains. It reportedly has many health benefits, including helping to eliminate cancer-causing free radicals from the body.
However, there still doesn’t appear to be enough scientific evidence to back this up. An article in the Jakarta Post in 2009 reports how Nina Artanti, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), conducted several studies on the potential of Indonesia’s mistletoe to cure cancer. She focussed on mistletoe species growing on star fruit and jackfruit trees and concluded that mistletoe does appear to cure cancer in several ways – by killing cancer cells, stimulating the immune system and helping to reduce the size of the tumour. However, the results are not enough on their own and further research is needed.

B17Apricots

B17 is not actually a vitamin. It’s another name for Laetrile, a partly man made form of the natural substance amygdalin. Amygdalin is a plant substance found naturally in raw nuts and the pips of many fruits, particularly apricot pips, or kernels. It is also present in plants such as lima beans, clover and sorghum.

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the use of B17 as a cancer cure and Cancer Research UK is adamant about the lack of scientific evidence available, advising against using it as an alternative to conventional cancer treatments and highlighting its potentially serious side effects.

On the other side of the argument there’s an entire website dedicated to the use of this substance in the fight against cancer and, although the authors include a disclaimer against its promotion as a cancer cure, they also make some hefty claims, refer to a plethora of research and the site generally makes for some very interesting reading. According to the authors, the systematised study of B17 dates back to 1802 and about 18 years ago some of the world’s top scientists claimed that its components make it 100% impossible to develop cancer and will kill existing cancer cells. However, this claim was immediately pounced on by pharmaceutical companies and, it would appear, never made it much further in terms of conclusive clinical trials.

According to Dr. Ernest T. Krebs, Jr., the components of B17 make it vital for our survival without cancer. So, as long as the guidelines for avoiding excessive consumption are followed, maybe metabolic therapy (the cancer therapy based on the use of B17 plus other elements) is worth a try.

basket of cruciferous vegetablesA quick search online will uncover many other claims of cancer-fighting foods and most people I speak to have at least one other suggestion for supposed miracle cures. For example, it has been proven that cabbage boasts cancer-fighting properties, as do other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale. I’ve also heard that lemon zest can prevent skin cancer.

As with any alternative remedies, there can always be side effects of consuming too much of one substance. The risks should always be researched and weighed up and medical advice should always be sought, particularly if other medication is also being taken. Personally, I believe there’s room for both traditional medicine and alternative remedies and I hope the research continues to provide conclusive evidence in order that we may be better educated about how the food we eat affects our ability to fight disease.

I’d love to hear from anyone with first-hand experiences of how nutrition has helped in the fight against cancer. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Breakfast Like a King

breakfast table laden with foodTo breakfast or not to breakfast? That is the question. It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. A decent breakfast makes you feel good, gives you energy and sets you up for the day.

According to a survey by The Telegraph around two thirds of people in Britain don’t eat breakfast but most nutritionists agree it’s the most important meal and if you’re trying to lose weight this certainly isn’t the way to do it.

As Angela Tella, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), warns in the Telegraph article: ”Breakfast is a very important meal and provides a lot of nutrients, such as glucose, that aid concentration and mental strength. And research shows that people who eat breakfast are generally slimmer.”

The reason for this, according to researchers from Imperial College London is that missing breakfast increases the appeal of high-calorie foods, leading to a higher intake of calories at lunchtime. It can also result in mood swings and a feeling of hunger throughout the day, which is not what you want when you’re trying to lose weight. Skipping breakfast sends messages to your brain that your body may be going into hibernation mode, so any calories that you do consume will get hoarded for later use, i.e. stored as fat.

So, the next question is: what should we be eating for breakfast? The possibilities are endless: from toast, bagels and pancakes; to yoghurt, cereals and fruit; to eggs, bacon and beans. I have a bit of a reputation in my office for eating the healthiest breakfasts so I thought I’d share some of my personal favourites with you.

Now, I’m definitely not one to shy away from a hearty Full English (veggie of course), a delicate Eggs Florentine or a delectable stack of pancakes smothered in maple syrup, bananas and blueberries. But here comes that familiar motto again…. altogether now: Everything in moderation!

I’ll splash out on a brekkie treat now and then, tend towards a post-practice coffee and croissant on a Sunday and favour 2 slices of wholemeal (or gluten-free) toast with Marmite and peanut butter (not together – ew!) at the weekends. But my standard, weekday, post-practice, at-the-desk staple is this:

  • breakfast bowl, muesli & rice milkA base of Doves Farm gluten-free cornflakes.
  • Followed by a handful of oats granola or, better still, homemade muesli (see below).
  • Freshly sliced banana layered on top.
  • A sprinkling of homemade nut & seed mix (almonds, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, poppy & chia seeds).
  • A spoonful of some healthy powder! Currently Linwoods’ milled flax, sunflower, pumpkin & sesame seeds & goji berries; soon to be replaced by Pulsin’s hemp protein powder.
  • All topped off with a generous portion of rice milk.

Sounds complicated but it’s so delicious and nourishing and keeps me going for hours.

I’ve only just started making my own muesli, inspired by a recipe my sister passed on to me in New Zealand. It’s so easy and much cheaper than buying it ready made. This is how to do it:

  • Mix 170g of rolled oats with 35g of dessicated coconut, 2tbsp of neutral oil (try grapeseed oil), 85g of runny honey, 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon and as many nuts and seeds as you fancy.
  • Combine thoroughly, spread into a baking dish lined with greaseproof paper and bake at 180 degrees for about 20-30 mins, turning regularly.
  • The muesli will turn a lovely golden brown colour. If you prefer it more toasted, bake for longer, but keep turning it regularly.
  • Remove from oven and once cooled add dried fruit to your liking, e.g. raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots, dates, etc.
  • Eat and enjoy!

Lapsang Souchong teaAnd of course no breakfast would be complete without a strong smokey cup of Lapsang Souchong tea to wash it all down with! (The first meal of the day seems to warrant a little more leniency with the half-hour rule…)

I’m looking forward to the morning already!

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Applying the 5 Yamas to Healthy Eating

cake and yogisI’ve been practicing Mysore style Ashtanga yoga daily for the last 3 and a half years. As a dedicated practitioner I’ve attended numerous workshops, read countless articles and talked about yoga with fellow Ashtangis until the cows came home!

I count through my practice in Sanskrit every day and can recite the Sanskrit names of all the asanas in primary and some of second series. I know the opening and closing prayers off by heart and have even chanted the yoga sutras a couple of times. But I’m ashamed to say I haven’t really studied much in the way of philosophy.

The other day in the shala, I heard my teacher talking to a beginner about the eight limbs of Ashtanga and the five yamas and I suddenly realised I don’t know what they are! What a bad Ashtangi I am! I raced home that evening after work, grabbed my copy of Yoga Mala (the seminal teachings of our guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois) and feverishly read and re-repeated the eight limbs, the yamas and the niyamas, vowing I’d never forget them again.

And then a strange thing happened. I began to read the yamas in a way I’d never done before. And I began to understand them. I think up until now yoga philosophy for me has mostly been this intangible, distant subject from some forgotten age which I never thought I could relate to. But, as it turns out, the five yamas – a set of principles by which yogis should live their lives – is actually very relevant to all of us, right now. Not only that, but I believe they can be applied to many different situations and aspects of life. And I could instantly see how similar they are to my own set of principles for healthy eating:

Ahimsa

The first yama is to do with non-violence. Or more specifically not causing harm to anyone, including animals, in any form, at any time, for any reason – in word, thought or deed.

In relation to diet, I guess the most obvious link here is vegetarianism. But it also has to do with not harming oneself, i.e. not overeating, not consuming processed or nutritionally devoid foods and not eating foods that don’t agree with you.

Satya

Satya means truth, so we should always tell the truth in thought, word and deed. However, the truth must be pleasant to others so an unpleasant truth should not be told.

I connect this yama with really listening to your body and being truthful with yourself about what your body needs. Are you being honest with yourself about your relationship with food? When do you turn to food for comfort and why?

Asteya

This yama says we should not steal and extends to not being envious of others, not cheating others with sweet words and avoiding yogi holding fruitgaining selfish ends under the guise of truthfulness.

I think you could apply this to not comparing yourself to others in terms of body weight, size and diet. Our bodies are all very different and need differing amounts of foodstuffs to sustain them. We should focus on our own body, tuning in to what feels right for us, rather than ‘stealing’ someone else’s idea of normal, or pretending to be something we’re not.

Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is to do with moderation and, in its most extreme form, celibacy. In Yoga Mala, Jois states that the following must be avoided as much as possible in order to achieve brahmacharya: “mixing with vulgar people; going to crowded areas for recreation; reading vulgar books which disturb the mind; going to theatres and restaurants; and conversing secretly with strangers of the opposite sex”.

I’m not sure how realistic it is to avoid restaurants or crowded areas, especially if you’re a busy city-dwelling urbanite! But this definitely fits with eating everything in moderation and not binge eating or overindulging.

Aparigraha

The final yama has to do with non-attachment but specifically says that the food we eat should be pure, untainted and not acquired by unjust means. Moreover, we should only take as much food as we need and not desire things which are superfluous to the physical body.

The obvious connection here is that we should eat food that is as pure as possible: fresh, locally sourced and in its most natural form. We should also stop eating when we’re full, which relates back to listening to our body and eating in moderation. As for not desiring superfluous foods, I’d love to meet a person who never has an urge for a piece of chocolate, a slice of cake or a bowl of chips – for they have truly achieved samadhi!

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Frozen Tofu? It Really Works!

Mushroom Goulash

Following last week’s post, I decided to try out some of the recipes from the Revive Cafe Cookbook and first up was the Mushroom Goulash.

I chose this recipe because it looked easy, didn’t require too many unusual ingredients and seemed like a nice heartwarming meal on a chilly February night.

I’m not going to divulge the recipe I’m afraid because it’s not mine to share, but I did want to highlight these 2 fascinating things I discovered in the process:

Smoked Paprika Powder

1) Thanks to another recipe in the book I recently bought some smoked paprika powder and decided to substitute the suggested cayenne pepper for this. It brings a lovely mild smokey flavour to the dish and I’ve started sprinkling it on just about everything. The tin it comes in is pretty cool too!

2) The book has an ingenious way of using tofu that I’d never heard of before. The number of times I’ve bought a block of silken tofu, determined to cook with it and failed miserably. I’ve tried marinating it, baking it, frying it. But it’s no use. It just crumbles pathetically every time. But not any more! Thanks to sub-zero temperatures my tofu is as firm as a rock (albeit a slightly squishy one). Yes, by freezing your tofu in advance and then defrosting prior to cooking, it develops a texture similar to chicken. Genius!

P.S. Remember to drain your tofu first, a mistake I won’t be repeating. Trying to squeeze excess water out of a chicken-like substance is no easy feat I can tell you!

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