Healthy Diet – You Are What You Eat

I always had the best intentions to have a healthy diet. But before the diagnosis, my diet wasn’t healthy. Quite far from it. I wrote in an earlier post that changing my diet to eating more fruit and vegetables and less processed and sugary foods, was one of the changes I made following the cancer diagnosis.

There’s so much, often conflicting, information about what we should and shouldn’t eat that it can get quite confusing. Like when we were told eggs were bad, only to be told some years later that actually they are not.

After my cancer diagnosis I looked into diets, healthy eating and foods that might be beneficial to eat during cancer treatments and, most importantly, to support a healthy body and mind in the long-term.

A balanced healthy dinner
Homemade tzatziki and houmous
with pita, halloumi and lamb (for Justin, I’m not a fan of lamb)

Eating What I Like – Well, The Doctor Said I Could

Before I began my chemo treatments, I spoke to my oncologist about diet during the treatments. I wanted to know if there were any foods I should eat or avoid. She said,

"Eat what you feel like."

I took it literally at first. Since I had her permission, I ate anything I fancied and, for some reason, after my operation I fancied everything unhealthy: donuts, crisps, frankfurters, sweets. You get the idea.

Once, for example, on our way to Ashdown Park for a weekend away just after my first chemo, I bought a bag of Liquorice All Sorts when we stopped to buy a few snacks to have later at the hotel.

Only the sweets didn’t make it that far; I finished them in about five minutes. When Justin asked for one, I had to tell him they were all gone. But I didn’t stop there. When we got to our room, I ate a whole Oreo donut and anyone who’s had one of those knows how incredibly sweet they are. Sickly sweet. I followed this with almost an entire block of cheese (in my defence it was a small-ish one) with some crackers. Had I carried on like that, I would have ended up the size of a barrel.

Changing My Diet

For a while I was loving being able to eat whatever I fancied. But then I felt that it couldn’t be quite right. Surely, I should look after my body rather than stuffing it full of sugar, salt, fat and whatever else you might find in the unhealthy foods and snacks I ate.

Cauliflower and almond soup

I started researching healthy diets and cancer. I found tons of information. Some of it was informative and helpful, some were confusing and others making exceptional promises of curing cancer.

It would be great if, for example by drinking litres of carrot juice, you could cure yourself of cancer. And when you are feeling desperate to find something, anything that will support your healing, it is easy to fall for these promises. To think maybe…

But if we could heal cancer simply by eating the right foods, cancer clearly wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

That said, there are some observational studies that have shown that high consumption of certain types of foods might increase the risk of developing cancer. And whilst there is no single superfood that will cure cancer, there are some foods that contain cancer-fighting properties.

We Are Now Eating Less of…

Red Meat

One food listed as a carcinogen is red meat. The NHS recommends eating no more than 70 grams of red or processed meat per day. That is roughly two rashes of bacon or one and a half sausages. For more examples on what 70 grams looks like, visit BBC GoodFood.

Cod with piri piri sauce and
crushed new potates and pepper

When I look back at my diet before the diagnosis, I was eating way too much red meat. I might not eat red meat every day, but over the course of a week, I would exceed the recommendations.

As an example, on a Saturday we’d quite often have a full English breakfast. Usually I’d have two rashes of bacon and two sausages. That alone is more than a day’s portion. Say I then had a burger later in the day. A large burger equals two more portions. That’s four days’ worth of meat in just two sittings.

Now, most of our meals are vegetarian, but we have fish twice a week, chicken one a week and I allow myself red meat once, maximum twice a month. I still won’t eat processed meats like ham or bacon. However, Justin loves a bit of bacon when we have a bigger breakfast.

Ready Meals And Pasta

Another thing that is no longer part of our diet are ready meals. In the past, largely because of my long working hours, I often resorted to quick and easy dinner options.

I opted for easy, because I didn’t have time or energy to think of different dinners. Or was I just being lazy? Either way, there are lots of quick and easy recipes available on the internet that take less than 30-minutes to prepare and I now enjoy trying out different things.

Some Types Of Fish

Some fish can have a high built up of pollutants in their bodies. One of those, sadly, is tuna. I love tuna and used to eat lots of it. With pasta and in salads and sandwiches.

For those who, like me, love their fish but not the idea of pollutants, this article from the NHS has good guidance on eating fish.

Cod with potatoes, pepper
and green beans

What Have We Added To Make Our Diet More Healthy?

Fruit And Vegetables

The pre-cancer me could go days without eating fruit. I rarely bought fruit because I thought they were too expensive for my budget. But then I’d be happy to pay £6 for a pint in a pub. I know the pre-cancer me had seriously skewed ideas. My priorities were completely wrong.

Now we eat so much more fruit and vegetables. We include more vegetables in our dinners and eat fruit throughout the day.

We also have a juicer and a smoothie maker. Making juices and smoothies is great for adding more fruit and vegetables into your diet.

More beans, lentils and peas

Pulses, which include beans, lentils and peas are great for vegans and vegetarians, and for people trying to reduce the amount of meat they consume. They are an excellent source of protein and iron, and that makes them a good substitute for meat.

They are also cheap and count towards the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

The only downside to pulses is the farting… The NHS guide on beans and pulses says it’s because they contain undigestible carbohydrates. However, they also say that you can reduce the effect by rinsing them in water. I’m not sure that works. They still make me as gassy as ever.

What Has Been The Impact Of Our New Healthy Diet?

This is probably obvious to you all, but I’ll say it, anyway. Following a healthy diet has produced good results on the scales for both of us.

My weight has always gone up and down. And up a lot easier than down. Sometimes it felt that I only needed to look at a donut for it to appear around my waist as a spare tyre. Since changing my diet (and adding exercise), I have lost weight. I’m still not quite within the ideal weight for my height, but at least I’m a lot closer to it. And I’m hoping that once I reach it, having a healthy diet will make it easier to maintain the weight, too.

Another change has been my bowel movements. Before I changed my eating habits, I used to have dodgy guts regularly.

Now, with the better diet, my digestive system works so much better. My bowel movements are more regular and the consistency of my stool is better, too. I won’t go into Justin’s bowel movements 🙂

I also have more energy and I don’t get the afternoon slumps I used to get. I’ve also noticed an improvement in my skin.

Fish is important in a healthy diet
Mackerel with beetroot and
poached egg salad

Few Final Thoughts About Healthy Diet

I know our diet is now much better than it used to be. Though the changes we have made might not provide miracle cures or guarantee a cancer-free life, they have been worth it because we both feel better and healthier. I also think there is no one-size-fits-all diet as we need to find what works for us. However, I think the old rule of moderation and balance (with an abundance of fruit and vegetables) is good to remember.

Just one more thing before I finish. Which is about my doctor saying that I could eat whatever I wanted.

For a while, after I’d stopped indulging in everything unhealthy, her statement made me angry. Surely, she should have advised me towards a healthy diet. But I think I have since figured out why she said that.

Some people lose their appetite when they have chemo, or certain foods make them sick. It is better to eat something, even if it is a frankfurter followed by a donut, or a frankfurter with a donut, than nothing at all.

I was lucky I never lost my appetite or have foods make me nauseous. I also think that choosing healthy foods helped my body combat the side-effects better.

Finally, here’s an interesting article about food as medicine (which, as the article says, it ain’t).

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6 thoughts on “Healthy Diet – You Are What You Eat

  1. I’m just starting chemo. I wasn’t given any advice on diets. I think there needs to be more research into best diets when having cancer treatments. I’m defo going to try to eat healthy.

  2. I love the looks of the meals in the pictures. Any chance of sharing some recipes?

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