Cancer Recovery with a Veggie Crunch
This is a story about a woman who loves food with a good crunch. She is a professor and a cancer survivor, a real warrior.
Her brutal cancer treatment about two years ago, including radiation to her abdomen, caused damage to her digestive tract, which made it nearly impossible for her to eat vegetables—not an uncommon experience with cancer treatment, when guts can really take a hit.
Giving up vegetables was a huge loss. She loves vegetables…all of them. And while going through cancer treatment, she couldn’t eat any. She’s had to rely on bland foods like saltines, bread, pasta, and very easily digested foods. Even after her treatment, she’s had to stay away from most veggies due to severe indigestion.
**She’s not alone. With irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and our commonly imbalanced western gut flora, many people experience indigestion.
Since her recovery, she’s struggled with energy, anxiety, and insomnia, all of which she attributes to cancer and her treatment’s toll on her body and mind. She was comforted, but not exactly thrilled, by her oncologist’s advice to think of herself having aged a decade since her diagnosis so that she wouldn’t be so hard on herself about what she can no longer do.
During one of our recent sessions, I wondered with her about the connection between her loss of energy and her loss of veggies. Once I learned that she mostly ate her vegetables raw in salads, I told her that I thought there might be a work around. It takes a lot of work for the gut to breakdown the cellulose found in raw vegetables. If the gut is damaged, irritated, or inflamed, breaking the food down can be too taxing and can cause gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
I suggested that she start to slowly add back vegetables to her diet, but instead of in salads, which she loves to eat for their crunch, that she try cooking her veggies. She could sauté them in olive oil or ghee (rich in butyrate, which has anti-inflammatory properties and is great for the lining of the gut), or steam them. By cooking the veggies, she’d basically do much of the gut’s work by breaking down the vegetable’s hard-to-digest cellulose in the cooking process, making them more easily digestible.
One month later, she came back ecstatic. “Cooking vegetables changed my life. I can eat all of them now!” she told me. She felt more energetic and less logey (defined by Urban Dictionary as feeling sloth-like, sluggish, and too full or bloated). She even started to exercise more regularly and lost a few unwanted pounds.
Amazing, right? But, there was a catch. Sautéed veggies fell short in delivering her beloved crunch (there actually could be many reasons why she has crispy cravings and you can read more here). No problem! Roasting them until crispy would do the trick. Even roasted broccoli is totally delicious. We couldn’t come up with a veg that she wouldn’t want to roast.
No one should have to give up veggies, not with all we know about their role in mind and body health. With vegetables in her diet, I’m hopeful that her mood and energy will continue to improve, which will help her to keep up her exercise routine, which will all help her to get better sleep. They're all so connected.