Lori Ann Pon studied mixed martial arts for 18 years and is a third-degree black belt. But her lifestyle changed after she was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer in 2016.
The 62-year-old Coral Springs resident now eats organic food only. She makes sure her plate is mostly filled with fruits and vegetables with a small portion of meat.
The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends this in the New American Plate, which consists of two-thirds vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and one-third animal protein. As far as veggies, kale and spinach are at the top of her list. For protein, she mainly eats fish and chicken.
“My brother goes fishing all the time,” Pon said. “He brings me fresh fish like grouper, dolphin, mahi and snapper.”
Taking responsibility for her nutrition and eating habits plays an important role in Pon’s treatment, said Mary Scott, a dietitian and clinician at Broward Health, where Pon receives care.
“Nutrition is only part of it,” said Scott, who encourages patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. “Working with staff with all aspects of treatment is needed. Patients have fewer side effects if they are more in tune with their eating habits.”
Nutritional therapy is designed to prevent patients from experiencing nutritional side effects from cancer treatment, said Jillian Guralski, clinical nutritional coordinator at Memorial Cancer Institute at Memorial Healthcare System.
“If the body is a garden, cancer is a weed,” said Dr. Lesley Klein, clinical dietitian at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “I want to nourish the garden so the cancer has a harder time to grow back once it’s been eradicated. I really like patients to eat a rainbow of colors, so that they have a better chance of reducing their risk of a recurrence of their cancer.”
Leafy green vegetables, apples, hummus, onions, blueberries and grapefruit are some of the foods that are considered anti-cancerous, anti-inflammatory and heart healthy, among other attributes.
Twenty percent of cancers are linked to obesity so it is important to maintain a healthy weight, said Carla Araya, a registered dietician at Baptist Health South Florida’s Miami Cancer Institute. Obesity is associated with a low-grade chronic inflammation that can damage cells, making a patient more susceptible and increase risks to diseases.
AICR’s research has found a strong link between excess body fat and increased risk for cancer. Overweight people have high levels of substances circulating in their blood that stimulate cell division. The more often cells divide, the more opportunity there is for cancer to develop.
The effects of a diet change are being studied at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Since January, the study has monitored the effects of the ketogenic diet on children, ages 1-18, who have benign and malignant brain tumors that don’t respond to standard treatment, said Dr. Ziad Khatib, director of neuro-oncology at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
The ketogenic diet encourages patients to eat low-carb, high-fat foods. Some of the foods incorporated into the diet include heavy whipping cream, oils such as olive or peanut, avocados, walnuts and cashews, said Jennifer Lynn Caceres, a dietitian at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and principal investigator on the study. The diet is also low in sugar and protein.
Supplements are given during the study to make sure the patient receives all nutrients, Caceres said. The supplements include calcium, vitamin D and multivitamins. The supplement carnidine, a nutrient in the body that metabolizes or uses fat energy, is also supplied.
Exercise can also play a big role in the fight against cancer. A recent AICR research report stated that physical activity lowers the risk of certain cancers for adults. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and eating well can prevent nearly one-third of the most common U.S. cancer cases. The AICR recommends at least 30 minutes daily of physical activity.
Pon now incorporates other forms of exercise into her routine to stay fit. Every Sunday, she rides with her girlfriends to the beach and has brunch. Besides bicycling regularly, she runs and performs abdominal and push-up exercises.
The best cancer-fighting foods
Legumes: Lentils and beans, such as red, black, pinto, and kidney, “are a great source of protein other than meat,” said UM’s Klein. Legumes are also rich in fiber and a good source of folate.
Broccoli: It is an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, fiber and potassium and magnesium, among other nutrients. “It is considered anti-cancerous,” Guralski said. Broccoli is one of the cruciferous vegetables, which includes Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collard greens.
Nuts and seeds: “Nuts such as almonds and walnuts are healthy fats and have omega 3, Guralski said. Walnuts, especially, contain high amounts of polyphenols, phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants provide cell protection from damage caused by free radicals. Seeds such as flaxseed provide magnesium, protein and fiber.
Grapefruit: Contains phytochemicals, which can have antioxidants and provide cell protection. “Papaya, mango and citrus foods are high in vitamin C and are very beneficial,” Guralski said.
Spinach: Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard have fiber, folate and carotenoids, which have antioxidants. “Spinach is high in protein and an alternative source for protein instead of meat,” Guralski said.
Whole grains: Brown rice, oatmeal, corn, whole-wheat bread, barley, and farro are some of the whole grains “that are high in protein and fiber.” Whole grains provide more fiber, nutrition, fiber and phytochemicals than refined grains.
Blueberries: Contain phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which give the berries their blue color. High in antioxidants, blueberries also contain vitamins C and K, and manganese. “Besides containing antioxidants, blueberries can also help people to focus and are heart healthy,” UM’s Klein said.
Carrots: These vegetables can be found in the colors of orange, purple, red and yellow. Very high in vitamin A, carrots also contain vitamin K, beta-carotene, fiber and phytochemicals. “Carrots help with the immune system, are anti-cancerous and protect cells,” said Baptist’s Araya.
Garlic: A common ingredient in food across the world, garlic is part of the same family of vegetables that includes onions, scallions, shallots, leeks and chives. “It is anti-cancerous, good for your gastrointestinal health, and protects your cells,” said Baptist’s Araya.
Salmon: One of several types of fatty fish that contains omega 3, which is anti-inflammatory. Also good: mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, shrimp and scallops.
What to avoid:
Sugary drinks such as sodas and juices. Swap sodas for flavored sparkling water or add fruit like melon, berries or citrus to your water.
Red meat, beef, lamb and pork. Eating more than 18 ounces of red meat weekly increases the risk of colorectal cancers, the AICR stated.
Processed foods: Consuming sausage and hot dogs regularly increases risk of colon cancer, according to the AICR. Processed foods often contain added fat, sugar and sodium as well as low in nutrients and fiber. Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid boxed items that are high in sugar and chemicals.