By Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Last year I wrote about diet and diabetes because it struck close to home after losing a friend. I realized that several friends have or are battling cancer and it got me thinking about diet(s) and the power of food again. It is a fact that the best way to get the nutrients your body needs is through food rather than supplements, and if you’re not a picky eater then that part should be easy. I did a little research and found some pros and cons for five popular diets. These are some of the findings from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), and their recommendations for a healthier recommended daily allowance (RDA).
The alkaline diet avoids heavy acidic food which are very common on Western menus. Refined carbohydrates and animal fats are high in acid which is difficult for the body to process. The diet involves eating more fruits, vegetables, grains and beans and limiting red meat, white flour and white rice and especially avoiding sugar. With any diet, sugar is the devil! Nutrition labels on food packaging give the amount of sugar that is present, but not the percentage of daily value in an average diet. Consumers want lower fat so manufacturers have replaced fat with sugar to make things taste good and keep us buying their products, so if you can avoid added sugar you’re making a step in the right digestion – pun intended.
The paleolithic diet claims our Stone Age ancestors ate healthier than we do as they had to hunt and forage for food. This diet involves eating vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat and eggs while avoiding grains, beans, dairy and processed food. While this diet promotes eating whole foods which is often the best way to get nutrients from certain food, it eliminates the entire grains food group which was the base of the old “food pyramid,” and still a part of the modern balanced plate. Many people have lost weight and swear by this diet.
The ketogenic diet is high in fat and low on carbs. The idea here is that cancer cells start to use ketones for energy instead of glucose. Research is mixed on this as it is difficult for people to reach and maintain proper ketone levels, and there is evidence that some cancer cells cannot metabolize ketones. Due to the lack of fruits, vegetables and grains, this diet is the least friendly for a WCRF/AICR approved diet.
Vegan diets avoid all animal products including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey. There are many sugar filled vegan and vegetarian foods on the shelf so people on this diet must be mindful of their purchases and be aware of their calcium and B12 intake.
The macrobiotic diet is about a better balance of nutrition and includes exercise and meditation. Many years ago my friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and was told they could do nothing for her. She went to Mexico for a second opinion and was told a macrobiotic diet would help. Many years later she was still on the diet and fit as a fiddle. The emphasis is on unprocessed, organic cereal grains like brown rice and millet making up about 50 percent and the other half is equal amounts of vegetables and legumes. This diet is a good choice for an AICR diet, although it is low in vitamin D, B12 and calcium.
It’s difficult for me to stay away from cheese so I get my calcium and vitamin D that way. A good source for B12 is seafood like salmon and trout. The best source is found in clams and beef liver with a normal serving of either containing over 7,000% of the RDA for B12. Oddly enough there are no recipes on the internet that use both clams and liver, so you’ll have to choose one or the other. Here is a salsa recipe that is good on so many things and fits the guidelines for most of the diets above.
2 pounds Roma tomatoes or fresh garden tomatoes
1 jalapeño pepper, see note below
1 large white onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, rough chopped
2 fresh limes, juice of
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
for a richer salsa add 3 TBS olive oil, optional
Preheat your grill or broiler to a medium-high heat. Place the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño and garlic in a single layer directly on grill or use a grill pan (use sheet pan if broiling). Grill or broil the vegetables until they start to char on all sides, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the level of heat. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a food processor and add in lime juice, cumin, oregano and cilantro and pulse until coarsely pureed. You may add 3 TBS of olive oil before mixing, or add the oil to a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat and pour your salsa in pot heat for 5 minutes for authentic Mexican flavor. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or refrigerate right away. Great on tacos, for dipping or making Chilaquiles.
Note: Remove inner membrane and seeds from jalapeño before charring for milder salsa. Add an extra jalapeño (or two) for spicier salsa. Try replacing jalapeño with one or two minced chipotle chilies packed in adobo for a smoky salsa.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.