A Biochemist with Prostate Cancer
Looks at His diet

Ross Hume Hall, Ph.D.
biochemistry, nutrition,  food technology.

  Unofficial Guide to Smart Nutrition
A Cell's-EyeView
19th Century FDA?
Blow-Torch Cheese
Enriched  Bread?
French Fried Kids
Omega-3 Fats
Trans Fats
Quality Ranking of Food Products
Try a Nutrition Quiz
Savvy Restaurant Eater
The Hormonal Cow
Gene-Modified Crops
Prostate Cancer
Memory Loss
Supplement or Not




For individuals with cancer, high-tech medicine with its chemo, radiation, and surgery has its limits. The individualís immune system carries a major load in defending against the cancerís spread. The author, who has metastatic prostate cancer, has created a seven-step nutritional plan to strengthen his immune defenses.

Metastatic prostate cancer. Doesnít sound so good does it? Well, two years ago I was diagnosed with this form of cancer. I had no inkling I had the disease until a sharp pain in my upper back announced its presence. The cancer had started in my prostate and by the time I noticed a problem it had already spread to my spine. Treatment, fortunately, has arrested the tumors and I am currently in remission.

You might say in my case the cancer has gone into dormancy. But like dormant plants, given the right conditions, the cancer could start growing again. Recognizing that fact, I advocate an active approach with the objective of keeping the cancer in a dormant state. The medical people can only do so much in treating prostate cancer. The individual has the power to make that treatment more effective by paying attention to life style. In particular, pay attention to what you eat.

In this piece I tell you of nutritional steps I have taken that I believe help suppress cancer cells. Help keep them in a dormant state.

In my professional life I taught biochemistry and nutrition to medical and health science students at McMaster University Medical School. My work focused on human biochemistry. This background has given me insight into how choice of foods can alter body biochemistry, for better or worse.

Now Iím applying that knowledge to my personal case. In addition to maintaining general health at a high level, I have two specific goals for fighting cancer: reduce nutritional stress and beef up the bodyís immune system.

The last thing a cancer survivor needs is stress in any shape or form. Nutritional stress is one of the worst forms. Comes from eating low-grade foods.

Nutritional stress comes from eating low-grade foods. The body has to work hard to extract whatever nutrition such foods possess. To use a mechanical analogy. Itís like your car struggling up a steep hill on low-grade gasoline. With low-grade foods, the body has less energy and resources to deal with the cancer.

For the second goal, that is, beefing up the bodyís immunity, immune strength depends on the strength of oneís food. Strong or high-grade foods pump up the immune system and strong immune defenses help suppress tumors.

Seven practical steps with respect to food choices

That being said, what do you actually eat, what do you do when you shop in the food markets? Iím not going to talk about specific food products. Rather, Iím going to give you seven principles that are easy to apply. They are seven practical steps, Iíve taken with respect to food choices.

First Step. Eat one raw meal a day. To operate at top level, the body needs a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Some of the vitamins and minerals are either partially destroyed or leached out during cooking. Which is to say, foods offer maximum nutritional value before they are cooked or processed.

When I have mentioned this idea in talks I give, I often get the response: If one raw-food meal is good for you why not eat all foods raw?

Letís be realistic. Like most people, I enjoy cooked foods. So I believe in striking a balance. At some point over the day, I eat either a green salad or a fruit salad To add protein to the fruit salad, I add chopped nuts and a scoop of cottage cheese or yogurt. For a green salad I often add pieces of cheese or a scoop of canned fish.

Second Step. Reduce consumption of sugar and refined flour. Sugar and refined flour are both highly refined carbohydrates. Nutritionists call these foods naked caloriesĺ for good reason. Calories without nutrition. By that I mean, refining eliminates the nutritional tools the body needs to digest these foodsĺ the B vitamins, certain minerals, and fiber all these tools are present in the original whole grain or sugar cane.

Now while a lot of people recognize sugarís nutritional emptiness, they ignore the equally vacant nutrition of white flour.

Hereís why I avoid baked goods made from white flour Modern flour mills extract the starch, that is, the carbohydrate from the grain and leave behind the bran and germ. Guess where all the grainís vitamins and minerals are located? Thatís right, in the discarded bran and germ.

Think of what happens when breads, rolls and pizzas made with bleached white flour enter the body. To digest carbohydrate, the body, as I said, needs the full spectrum of B vitamins plus several minerals. Without these nutritional tools the body drains other systems like the immune system, in an attempt to scrape up needed vitamins and mineral. Itís a huge stress on the body.

While on this topic, let me mention "enriched flour". Donít be fooled. This so-called enriched flour is actually a highly refined and bleached wheat flour to which a small number of missing vitamins are added back. But the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber, present in the original wheat has vanished.

When shopping, my wife, Anne, and I look for whole grain baked goods and pastas. When we cook rice dishes, we always choose a brown rice.

A problem for the cancer survivor, hidden sugars.

A word about avoiding sugar. Soft drinks and candy bars obviously are loaded with sugar. But a problem for consumers is hidden sugar. Manufacturers aware that sugar carries a negative image love to disguise the large amounts of sugar their products often contain. Breakfast cereals are particularly guilty of hiding sugars. Kellogís All-Bran for example, is 30 percent sugar.

Manufacturers will disguise the amount of sugar they put in their products by listing sugar on the label in different forms. For example, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose. From your bodyís point of view, they are all naked sugars.

Third Step Cooking and salad oils. For cooking and salads, choose olive oil. Why? Of all the cooking oils commercially sold, olive oils are the least processed. The other oils have undergone harsh chemical purification which strips the oil of any nutritional valueĺ more naked calories.

But, and hereís a tip, choose an olive oil for cooking and salads that is labeled, "Extra Virgin". This version of olive oil undergoes a minimum of processing. It retains much of the goodness in the olive. Importantly, olive oil delivers a balance of unsaturated fats, good for general health.

While on the topic of liquid fat, that is oil, what about solid fat? What about butter versus margarine? Choose butter over margarine. The reason. Margarine is made from highly processed vegetable oils, containing chemical additives. Most brands also contain trans fats. These unnatural fats are formed during the harsh refining of the vegetable oils.

Walter Willett of the School of Public Health, Harvard University did a study that links trans fats to a higher risk of heart disease. Good reason for choosing butteróin moderation of course.

The bottom line for oils and fats is simply this: choose the least processed. Extra virgin olive oil and butter fit that criterion.

Step Increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

Whatís so special about the omega-3 fatty acids? First off, your body canít make the omega-3 fatty acids and must obtain them from the diet. Now, consider this fact. The envelopes of the immune cells that fight cancer are fabricated from omega-3 fatty acids. A body short of these substances is going to short change the immune system.

The mainstream American food supply is woefully short of omega-3 fatty acids. So let me mention an easy way to increase the amount in your diet. Flax seed.

Every day, grind one or two tablespoons of flax seed in a coffee grinder and add the resulting flour to breakfast cereal or other foods.

Why bother to grind flax seed? Itís the coat. Nature has given this seed a tough coat and as a result, eat the seed and it passes right through the gut. Grinding flax seed breaks open the coat and releases the omega-3 fatty acids. But--and hereís the problem--once exposed to oxygen of the air the omega-3 fatty acids begin to decompose. Thatís the reason for grinding the seed fresh.

Fifth Step. Avoid deep-fried foods like the bubonic plague. Admittedly, they can be tasty, but youíre really eating the cooking fat. Deep-fried foods sponge up the cooking oil. In fact the oil can become the main source of calories. French fries, for example, deliver over 50 percent of calories from that absorbed fat.

If an overload of naked fat calories is not bad enough, the cooking oil used in commercial deep-fat cookers resides there for weeksóor months. The oil, subjected to furnace-like temperatures day after day breaks down, forming toxic byproducts. Along with the aging oil, the toxic byproducts soak into the cooked food.

Your body has to work hard to detoxify these substances, a huge stress for body organs.

How about deep-fried meats? Manufacturers and restaurants generally coat meat and fish pieces in a batter before dunking the pieces in the deep-fat fryer. The batter soaks up hot oil like a sponge. Eat a piece of Kentucky Chicken Extra Tasty Crispy Thigh, for example, and you get 65 percent of calories from fat, some from the chicken itself plus a big wallop of cooking oil soaked into the batter.

If you like meat, choose meats and fish that are grilled, baked or broiled.

Sixth Step. Consider taking a dietary supplement. Before going farther let me state the cardinal rule of supplementation. Vitamin and mineral supplements, whether added to food products or taken in pills, cannot rescue a poor diet.

What do I mean by a poor diet? One example is a meat-and- potatoes diet. Such a diet lacks a variety of fruits and vegetables. Bad news for oneís immune system. Another example is a diet consisting mostly of highly processed foods. Such foods fill you up. Thatís about all. Moreover, they carry a baggage of chemical food additives. Plenty of nutritional stress detoxifying those additives.

Adding vitamin and mineral supplements to such diets is like giving oats to an old nag and expecting it to do well in a race with thoroughbreds. The basics have to be present, a thoroughbred diet, so to speak, before supplements do any good.

Thus, providing oneís diet is well balanced, with lots of fruits and vegetables, there is merit in taking a vitamin and mineral supplement, as dietary insurance. For more details, check the article on supplements.

Seventh Step Take a good look at whatís available in the food stores and restaurants in your area. Now ask the question: How can I increase the overall nutritional worth of foods I choose?

Anne and I follow a strategy of what we call a better-than- approach. Itís simply a matter of looking at the choices before you and choosing the items with better nutritional worth.

You can eat only so much. So make the most of what you eat.

You can eat only so much. So make the most of what you eat. Take todayís supermarket. Youíll find 40,000 or more items. A huge choice of foods. You couldnít possibly buy more than a tiny fraction of those items. So why not buy those which you enjoy and at the same time benefit your body.

Here are examples of what I mean by increasing nutritional worth through better choices.

Eat fresh vegetables, lightly cooked or in salads, instead of canned or frozen,

Buy free-range eggs instead of factory eggs.

Choose whole-grain breads and other baked goods.

Drink freshly squeezed fruit juice or buy the premium brands. (Not made from concentrate.)

Buy nuts in the shell, or raw or dry-roasted. Avoid nuts roasted in oil.

Eat solid meats and fish, that is steaks, chops, roasts, filets, etc. Avoid the ground meats, such as hamburger, sausages, and fish sticks.

A common theme runs through all these better-than choices-- the amount of food processing. The better choice always favors the less processed food item.


Finally, eat locally. Do the best you can. We live in Vermont. Long winters. So we relish the local produce when it becomes available in season.

So as a cancer survivor, these are the seven steps I have taken to minimize nutritional stress on my body and to maximize the strength of my immune system.

Thereís a beauty to this overall approach: youíre not going to do yourself any harm. Youíll enhance the power of your body to fight the cancer and for an added bonus you enhance your general health and vitality.

A note: some people may find adopting the seven steps all at once somewhat daunting. Take one step at a time.


© Ross Hume Hall, 2002

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