March 2024: Planting the Seeds of Your Garden

by | Mar 31, 2024 | Prevention, Purpose, Serenity

This past week Princess Kate Middleton broke her silence about why she has not been seen. She spoke from her heart and communicated with the world her personal story of having abdominal surgery and subsequently learning that she had cancer. She also revealed that she is getting a chemotherapy medicine to prevent it from coming back. What is so honorable about what she did is not that she shared her cancer diagnosis but that this was to protect her children from misinformation about their mom. This is the same thing I have witnessed with many of my patients with cancer, eighteen percent of whom have children under the age of 18 while living with cancer. It is never easy and for most of the women that I have cared for, it is not the cancer diagnosis itself that gives them great angst but the possibility that they may leave their children behind without a mom! Yes, as women we often think of our children above all else. So I am so admiring of Kate for doing what she did which I can’t imagine. She did it despite the fears; she did it for her children! One Brave and Courageous Mom! KUDOS to Kate!

I am sure some of you can relate to this if you have been diagnosed with some form of cancer or have a close relative who has been diagnosed and you have children. What is important to keep in mind is that your genes are not your destiny, and you can take control of your health. In that case, you may be wondering what you can do to give yourself the best chance of preventing or surviving cancer and being Healthy and Strong together as a family. There are strategies that you can either continue, if you are already living a healthful life or add some on by building the muscle for the Five Pillars of Good Health:

  • Love/ Positive Relationships
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Serenity/ Stress Management
  • Spirituality/ Life Purpose and connection to a God or a Higher Power.

With that said, let’s focus on Nutrition this month. It is worth reflecting upon because in my forty-one years working in acute care oncology, those that I have seen have the greatest success in reversing, healing, or preventing cancer were the ones who radically changed their diets to a balanced, clean, natural and “real food based” diet. As Dr William Li says, “Love your food to love your Health.” So, let’s dive right in.

There is no better time to think of good nutrition than the spring when Mother Nature comes alive again and many are beginning to plant their own gardens or will start planting their dreams of what they want to be experiencing in their life this year. Our grandparents and great grandparents often had vegetable and herb gardens in the backyard which they planted in a natural environment in the spring, tended and harvested for meals eaten throughout the summer and fall. Today, we have farmers markets, local farm stands, community gardens and grocery stores!

So what kind of figurative or actual garden do you want to grow in your life this spring? What types of foods would you like to eat and nourish your body with to fuel your good health?

The foods that we eat can not only be delicious and fun to eat but influence our cells on a organic level by nourishing the systems that keep us operating at a steady and strong level. When we eat well, we fuel our bodies with phytonutrients, antioxidants and bioactives that nourish every cell of our immune system, our gut bacterial environment, our blood vessels, our stem cells, and keep the environment of our DNA better protected. All these systems work in concert to help us live better for the long term or repair those that have become dysfunctional so we can stay strong.

What many of the Centenarians from the Blue Zone Communities around the world have found helps is to eat a primarily plant-based, nutrient-dense diet. I say primarily because for some people they enjoy meat and that is okay. In the Mediterranean and Asian diets which have been well studied, they will eat meat too but generally limit their meat intake to a palm-sized portion of a good quality cut of grass-fed meat four to five times per month. It is helpful to avoid processed meats, like bologna, salami, pepperoni if you can, or eat it for a special occasion. When we use our Food as Medicine, we give our bodies the best chance of living longer with good health, doing more of what we love with a sense of happiness and peace and spending less time being sick, depressed or anxious.

So what foods are helpful to fuel your good health? I find it beneficial to have a visual and I hope this helps you too. (See the graphic below).

Retrieved on 3-28-2024 from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

We can create a meal of colorful fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables that take up half your plate. Fresh vegetables or fruits with vibrant colors are full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. An example of some beneficial vegetables to help keep our bodies healthy are romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, red peppers, and beets to name a few. Similarly, fruits that nourish our bodies are green apples, kiwi, papaya, watermelon, mangos, oranges, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to name a few. Each fresh apple alone has about 400 phytonutrients in them to keep our bodies healthy! This was so surprising to me when I learned this. These rainbow-colored foods have the nutrients in them to help keep our blood vessels healthy, to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes but also cancers.

One quarter of your plate can be served with beans, legumes, or lentils which are high in plant proteins and filled with fiber, B vitamins and minerals such as iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc which not only keeps us healthier but also lowers our blood sugar, cholesterol and helps our GI tract to be healthier. Examples include red or green lentils, garbanzo beans, chickpeas, black beans, pinto, navy, kidney, or cannelloni beans, soybeans and baked beans.

One quarter of your plate can be portioned with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, farro and/ or barley. These too are packed with fiber and B-vitamins. Some of these whole grains may be new to your pallet as farro was for me several years ago. It was easy to make, similar to cooking spaghetti, and it had a delicious flavor. Experimenting with these flavors is part of the whole health adventure!

In addition, while it may seem counter intuitive, our bodies and brains need healthy fats in our diets not only for the absorption of vitamin D to keep our bones strong but also to keep our brains healthier. This is especially true of young children whose brains are growing. Examples of foods with healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pecans. Seeds include flax, sunflower, sesame. and pumpkin seeds which can be sprinkled on salads or desserts for a crunchy taste and texture. Lastly, Omega-3’s in the form of fatty wild fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies (if you can stomach them!!), oysters, and seaweed are also very beneficial for the brain and in reducing inflammation in the body.

So as spring unfolds for you this year, I hope it also brings fresh ideas of what you would like to plant in your actual or virtual garden for your good, better, best health for you and your family. Here is to your Wellness this spring-Winning Every Living day towards Love Nutrition Exercise Serenity and Spirituality