Eat to defeat for the holidays

Research shows that one of the most important things you can do to manage mesothelioma and other forms of cancer is to keep stress low. You want your immune system humming, and stress can sabotage that. The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially when it comes to meal planning for those looking out for their health.

When shopping for that holiday grocery list, here are three popular diet recommendations that you should stop stressing over, along with some holiday-friendly ingredients to go ahead and put in your cart.

Stressor 1: All Organic or Nothing

Generally speaking, people seem to believe that organic foods are healthier than their non-organic counterparts. However, organic produce is not always easily accessible, and when it is, it’s usually more expensive. According to the Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, no scientific evidence exists to support the claim that organic foods decrease the risk of cancer. In fact, studies that link fruits and vegetables to cancer prevention were based on conventionally-grown produce. A 2012 study from Stanford University found no difference between the nutrition of organic and conventional foods. They did find that conventional fruits and vegetables had more pesticide residue (organic produce still had some). But according to The American Institute for Cancer Research, the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables (regardless of how they’re grown) outweigh any potential risks of pesticide consumption.

Simply wash your fruits and vegetables with water or a 1:3 water/vinegar solution, and choose locally-grown produce if it’s available. Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, states, “The conversation should be around local foods. The sooner you eat a fruit or vegetable after it’s picked, the more nutrients it has.”

Put it in your cart: Carotenoid-rich produce has been shown to fight a variety of cancers. This holiday, build a dish or two around seasonal, local vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or acorn squash. From-scratch pumpkin pie, anyone?

Stressor 2: Avoid the Meat

The media has consistently classified animal products, especially meat, as food to avoid from a health perspective. While it’s important to be aware of where your food is coming from, and while vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower cancer rates, to imply causation instead of correlation is a dangerous game. Many studies championed in popular films like Forks Over Knives show instances where groups that went from highly-processed diets to vegan diets reversed their heart disease, citing the removal of animal products as the cause rather than elimination of processed foods. This film also claimed switching from a processed to a vegan diet cured Dr. Ruth Heidrich of her breast cancer, but it left out the fact that she had her tumor surgically removed.

In reality, quality, ethically-sourced animal products can be abundant sources of vital nutrients in a well-rounded diet.

Put it in your cart: Beef, for example, is a prime source of zinc and iron, nutrients involved in the development of white blood cells. Many American adults, especially those who avoid meat or have cancer, are deficient in these immunity-boosting minerals, so don’t skip all the meat this holiday.

Stressor 3: Cleanse & Detox

Obsessing over detoxing is a popular one, especially toward the end of the year when people feel needlessly guilty about their holiday food choices and are looking for a “fresh start.” Whether it’s a juice fast, going gluten-free, supplementing, using enemas, or eliminating sugar from one’s diet, the main premise is the same: get rid of toxins you’ve put in your body. However, this premise is scientifically flawed.

The need for detoxing implies an actual poisoning has taken place, and cleanse marketers never identify what “toxins” they are referring to. The human body has its own filtration system, the kidneys and liver, designed to rid itself of unnecessary, benign waste. As Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., nutrition editor for the Mayo Clinic, points out, while anecdotal evidence suggests that people feel healthier, more focused, and energetic following a detox diet, these protocols are not scientifically proven to remove any kind of toxins from the body. The reported positive effects are likely the result of an overall reduction of processed foods. Quick-fix fad diets fail in comparison to long-term, sustainable healthy lifestyle choices.

Put it in your cart: For your holiday meals, don’t avoid beautiful, festive sources of sugar like pomegranates, cranberries, and mangos. These sweet fruits are brimming with flavonoids, vitamin C, and other antioxidants. The more color, the better.