Excerpt from Unleash Your God-Given Healing: Eights Steps to Prevent and Survive Cancer by Ginny Dent Brant
Food as Powerful Medicine
Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.
The standard American diet is fertilizer for cancer.
—Dr. Patrick Quillin
Everything in excess is opposed by nature.
I’ve not always used food as medicine. In fact, my title in high school could have been Junk Food Queen. Following the typical Standard American Diet (SAD), I was addicted to sweets, high carbs, fats, and soft drinks. I was living as though tomorrow was promised to me no matter what I consumed.
My perspective changed overnight when I was diagnosed with severe reactive hypoglycemia. I cried buckets of Oreos when I realized my days of donuts, cheesecake, ice cream, sweet tea, Quarter Pounders with Cheese, and French fries were over.
I had been struggling to lift my head off my desk in high school until a doctor advised me to change my diet. He warned me that if I did not turn things around, I was headed for type 2 diabetes. When he told me it might not be advisable for me to carry children in the future, he had my full attention.
He referred me to a nutritionist, and she balanced my diet, severely reduced my sugar intake, and eliminated all caffeine. I had been drinking an average of four Diet Cokes and four glasses of tea daily. Along with milkshakes, those were my drinks of choice. I learned that caffeine and high carbs elevated my blood sugar and two hours later were causing my blood sugar to crash. Blood sugar must be maintained between specific levels for the immune system and body to function optimally.
The nutritionist made a believer out of me when, just two months later, my blood sugar levels had returned to normal. I felt great. My low blood sugar had been robbing me of energy for years and plagued me with throbbing headaches. This was my first lesson in using food as medicine. But my back had to be against the wall for me to make changes to my diet. Sadly, this is true for most of us.
My second lesson in food as medicine was during my father’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The pain of his diagnosis and eight-year decline sent me on a quest to discover what could cause such a horrible disease. I found my answer in prevention.
Attending a medical research conference on Cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in Charleston, SC, in 2002, I learned that medical researchers were far from finding a cure for AD. They were recommending prevention as the only means of avoiding the illness. A doctor flashed pictures of fruits and vegetables on a screen and referred to them as the phytochemicals and antioxidants that are missing from our diets.
My research took me to a renowned neurologist, Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a professor at the University of Southern California who had lost his own dad to this dreadful disease. He had come to realize that all of his Alzheimer’s patients had several lifestyle characteristics in common:1) poor quality of sleep; 2) continual high alert and stress; 3) a diet low in nutrients; and 4) a sedentary lifestyle.¹ These traits also described my father, Harry Dent, Sr., and his workaholic days serving three presidents in the White House.
Fortanasce’s recommendations for preventing Alzheimer’s included 1)aerobic exercise five times each week; 2) hydration; 3) seven to eight hours of sleep per night; 4) a diet high in legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, vegetables, and fruits (especially blueberries); 5) keeping the brain active; 6) regular meditation (or prayer); and 7) social interaction.²
From that day, my husband and I increased our intake of fruits and vegetables to five servings per day and added blueberries to our diet. These delicious natural delicacies protect the immune system.
My third lesson in food as medicine came when my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2004. While meeting with Dr. Patrick Walsh, one of the top urology surgeons at Johns Hopkins, I asked, “What caused this?” After all, my husband had been the picture of health.
I’ll never forget his response. “The American diet is crap,” Dr. Walsh replied. “If we don’t realize it soon, there won’t be a man left who doesn’t have this cancer.” His partner, Dr. Ballentine Carter, gave my husband eight months to see if he could get his elevated PSA count down through diet to avoid surgery.
We sought a second opinion from Dr. Fray Marshall at the Emory Department of Urology. Known for his laparoscopic surgery to remove the prostate, he also felt Alton had a chance to reverse the cancer with dietary changes. His office lobby was filled with prints of luscious fruits and vegetables. They were preaching a message to us.
Using food as medicine, my husband’s elevated PSA dropped miraculously over time from 19 to 1. Our doctors were thrilled until Alton was attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets, and his PSA jumped back up to 10. At this time, the doctors advised us to remove his prostate. With Marshall and Carter booked months in advance, I found a highly skilled laparoscopic surgeon at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
Dr. Scott Miller’s waiting list was three months long. Providentially, his nurse let my husband in when another patient cancelled. Five days after meeting with Dr. Miller, we returned for surgery. The doctor told me the surgery was successful but the hardest he’d ever done. “It was the scar tissue caused by an infection your husband got from the biopsy,” he said.
It was an ordeal, but with our backs to the wall again, we decreased our junk food and increased our fruits and vegetables to seven servings per day.
The Final Lesson
I thought we’d changed enough, but I had more to learn. And that came through my breast cancer journey. Why must I always learn things the hard way?
My journey to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Illinois for a second opinion turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. CTCA combines the best of conventional medicine with integrative medicine, meaning plant-based medicine and diet would be part of my treatment. All meals were provided by CTCA for their patients and caregivers. I was impressed with the array of salads, entrees, and drinks—all on the healthy, organic side. Lunch at CTCA was quite delicious. Fresh fruit and vegetables abounded like a modern-day Garden of Eden.
My diet had gradually become healthier. However, I did not yet understand the significance of eating organic foods. I’d heard that some foods contained more chemicals than others, but I assumed my body was able to handle them. Still, I knew something needed to change. After all, this healthy girl had cancer. Every illness has a cause—no scientist would deny that.
Dr. Daniel Amen says, “Your food is either your medicine or your poison.” This hard-headed woman is finally now treating her food as medicine. My fruit and vegetable intake is now up to ten to thirteen servings per day, which is the amount recommended by the 2015 USDA guidelines.
Why Fruits and Vegetables Are Needed
In 2005, the USDA revised the food pyramid to include more whole foods, less fat, and more fruits and vegetables. Why the change? Rates of chronic disease in the U.S. had risen significantly due in part to change in diet and lifestyle behaviors. The World Health Organization (WHO) had determined that poor diet and physical inactivity were primary contributors to the leading causes of death and disability in the world.
About half of American adults currently have one or more preventable chronic diseases. Many are related to poor eating habits, which include eating foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, high in saturated fats and trans fats, high in chemical additives and preservatives, high in protein, and low in fresh fruits and vegetables. These preventable diseases include heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, poor bone health, and some cancers. In addition, nearly two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese.³
In 2013, former First Lady Michelle Obama and the USDA announced a new nutrition icon called My Plate as a part of an ongoing campaign against obesity. (Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cancer, and nearly every chronic lifestyle disease.) My Plate gave Americans a simpler way of looking at balancing their diet. According to the USDA, half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables—yes, I said HALF—and hopefully fresh. The other half of the plate is divided between one-third protein and two-thirds whole grains. A small circle above the plate represents a serving of dairy, such as yogurt or a glass of milk. For the first time, the USDA is recommending eating a more plant-based diet and using healthy oils sparingly.4
This is a dramatic change from the food pyramid of 1992, which listed grains (including white flour) as the primary food group occupying the most servings. The changes reflect what many nutritionists and doctors are finding contributes to good health.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, a well-known integrative and osteopathic physician, has applauded this approach but recommends that people with tendencies toward type 2 diabetes limit their fructose intake to 15 grams per day. I am definitely one of those people.
Order your copy of Unleash Your God-Given Healing: Eight Steps to Prevent and Survive Cancer by Ginny Deny Brant
Ginny Dent Brant is a speaker and write who grew up in the halls of power of Washington D.C. She has served as counselor, educator, wellness advocate, and adjunct professor. She served as a trustee of the Baptist International Mission Board for eight years, and she and her husband participated in mission work in six countries. Learn more at GinnyBrant.com
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