Finding the Right Cancer Diet: Simplifying Your Approach
Cancer patients often face a multitude of challenges, from therapies and medical tests to family, work, and daily life. With the growing list of diets like Keto, Vegan, and Mediterranean being recommended for improved cancer outcomes, it’s important to find an approach that doesn’t create additional stress or restrictions. Taking on a new primary task may be the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” adding to collective stress from the diagnosis and possibly carrying undefined negative impacts.
Navigating the Diet Dilemma
Patients looking for dietary guidance may come across experts like Mariam Kalamian, who authored “Keto for Cancer,” and her virtual team. Other authors like Ellen Davis (“Fight Cancer with Ketogenic Diet”) and Jess Higgins Kelley (“Metabolic Approach to Cancer”) also provide valuable insights. Most people want a “quick start” guide, and I advocate a sustainable program that fosters metabolic flexibility and most of the impact. This “fill in the blank” family diet respects cultural, traditional food choices and daily routines.
Understanding the Modified Ketogenic Diet (MKD):
Instead of the classic high-fat Ketogenic Diet for epilepsy (which incorporates 80% level calories from fat, the rest from protein and a “dash” of carbohydrates), the Modified Ketogenic Diet (MKD) offers a balanced approach with 50-60% calories from fat, 20-30% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. Transitioning to an MKD involves cleaning out processed foods and eliminating high-carb options, including sweet drinks and artificially sweetened products.
Leveraging Diet, Time-Restricted Eating, and Exercise
Combining the MKD with time-restricted eating, targeted exercise, and ketone supplementation provides maximum benefits with minimal disruption. Flexibility is key, meaning you can have a piece of carrot cake on your Sunday night birthday celebration, but make sure you walk the dog or do stair laps 15-30 minutes later. Consider the model below that will be surprisingly easier than expected, and most people find more energy, less hunger, and less meal preparation time. These three levers can be intensified just before treatment to enhance the therapeutic ratio and spare more normal cells, making cancer cells more vulnerable. (see tool for this in the Toolbox – Pre-Treatment Mitigation Strategies)
3 Lever Anti-Cancer Diet
Inflammation and High Insulin Levels are Drivers of Cancer.
The First Lever: What You Eat
The first lever is determining what they eat preferentially in balancing the three macros of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I remind our patients that there is much speculation about some tumor types usurping the use of amino acids or fats. However, we know more definitively that the breakdown products of carbohydrates or sugars are the primary metabolic drivers in cancer cells. Reduction of these byproducts in our diet is the priority. I remind patients that natural grains and fruits do not get a pass and should be restricted. Additionally, I like reminding those in our care that normal cells can survive and thrive on fats, proteins, and limited carbohydrates. Still, cancer cells are generally challenged and sometimes crippled in this low-sugar cellular environment.
Inflammation and high insulin levels arise from sugar-rich diets and refined starches. In the book Keto for Cancer, Miriam Kalamian recommends a diet that ensures a high intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 and monounsaturated fats while reducing the intake of unhealthy trans fats and seed oils. Keeping glucose levels low is critical to stress cancer cell energy production, so cancer patients should also enjoy fruit sparingly and prioritize low glycemic ones like grapefruit, berries, or green apples. Other mindful replacements – like colored vegetables for sweet potatoes – can minimize carbohydrate consumption while ensuring that nutrients like beta carotene are consumed adequately. Cleanly sourced red meat and fish provide valuable protein needed to repair and maintain muscle mass.
The Second Lever: When You Eat
The second lever to deploy is when we eat or do not eat. I remind patients we can dramatically lower insulin growth factor and insulin, the main proliferative driver at the top of the pyramid of a cascade of cell-to-cell cross-talk for proliferation, by long periods of non-eating. I encourage patients to tighten the time window of their meals such that they have 14 to 18 hours of no significant substrate intake. Many patients elect to have their first meal in the late morning or midday, so I recommend starting their day with water with electrolytes and no or low-carbohydrate beverages. The goal is to maintain sufficient caloric intake but compresses it to a 6-8 eating window with flexibility dependent on the day’s schedule. This intake modification becomes progressively more manageable as the fat-burning pathways upregulate and reset to our regular, evolutionary rhythm.
The Third Lever: What You Do When You Eat
The third switch is what we do or do not do when we eat or do not eat. I remind patients that the muscles are the “escape valve” for directing our diet variance to safety and benefit. After high carbohydrate intake, people should consider walking the dog or an imaginary dog to activate non-insulin glucose uptake and lower glucose levels. If one consumes a high protein or amino acid meal, consider some muscle activation activity (10 minutes of strength exercise) before or after to drive muscle proliferation rather than possible cancer cell stimulation. A third option is to incorporate exercise into fasting to prolong and enhance ketosis and autophagy. The two movement possibilities (resistance or aerobic training) can modulate dietary strategies and enable more flexibility and control.
Regular exercise can complement these dietary choices and slow down sarcopenia or muscle wasting. When in motion, fit muscles extract glucose from the bloodstream and store some glycogen to power future bursts of activity. Healthy muscles can hold between 350-500 grams of glucose, exceeding the liver’s storage capacity by roughly 3.5-5. This sequestration of glucose from the bloodstream <deprives cancer cells of their primary fuel, and it is also never made available to them again. When accessed for energy, glycogen stores are only used by adjacent muscle tissue!
Cachexia describes sarcopenia (muscle loss) and lymphopenia (immune depletion) and spells the demise of cancer patients. Strict attention to combining protein intake cleanly sourced with muscle activation exercises can trigger the maintenance of muscle mass and slow the decline. Early management of this threat is the best approach to cachexia before significant signs and symptoms arrive. I encourage patients to create some measure of their muscle function (number of push-ups, squats, or whatever one can monitor) and verify they are holding their ground or even improving.
While research continues on the best approach to nutrition, cancer patients and ordinary people alike should take caution when interpreting scientific data. Authors can have angles, and readers readily accept results supporting their attitudes toward anything, including food. Although vegans deserve some commendation for their earnest efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, increasing evidence suggests that such a lifestyle can prove unsustainable. When evaluating foods, consumers should weigh more heavily the source and quality of the food rather than the food itself. Eaten in moderation, clean red meat and fish supply essential protein to the body and form the foundation of a healthy diet – even in patients with Cancer.
- Meakin Metabolic Care (MMC) Website
- Meakin Metabolic Care Service Plans
- MMC Chronic Disease Prevention Program – Metabolic Optimization Protocol (MOP)
- MMC Cancer Patient – Metabolic Optimization Protocol (C-MOP)
- Travis Christofferson MS: books and biography
- All Coach It Forward Blogs (including Questions From The Clinic)
- All Coach It Forward Questions From The Clinic (rationally researched for you)
- Heal Navigator (care partner) Oncology Nurse Navigators
- Helpful Resources for Cancer Patients MMC Tool Box – Meakin Metabolic Care