Yoga and Nutrition

5 tips for eating and staying well during cancer treatment

While the following list certainly isn't exhaustive, these are some important considerations to keep in mind during cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If you have questions or concerns about what to eat, it's always best to speak directly with a nutritionist for individualized advice. If you're not sure who to go to, ask your doctor or nurse for a referral to an RDN. 


1. Eat foods, not supplement pills.

It’s usually better to get nutrients from real whole foods than dietary supplements. You’ll get vitamin C from kiwis, broccoli, a baked potato – and absorb it better, too – no need for a tablet. Getting too much of certain nutrients from supplement pills can be just as dangerous as getting too little. Furthermore, certain vitamin, mineral, and herbal dietary supplements can interfere with cancer treatments. Always talk to your doctor or dietitian if you’re thinking about taking any dietary supplement, even if it seems safe and natural.  

2. Be safe.

During certain treatments including chemotherapy, you may more susceptible to food-borne illnesses. Avoid sushi, rare meat, soft eggs, and raw shellfish. Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food. These precautions decrease your risk of exposure to bacteria that could make you sick and cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and delays in treatment.

3. Hydrate.

Adequate fluid intake is a must, particularly during chemotherapy. For most people, 2 liters per day of water is appropriate. It can be cold, hot, in-between, with sliced lemon or cucumber, sparkling or flat. Just make sure it’s going down.

4. Manage side effects healthfully.

Rather than succumb to overloads of comfort food for anxiety or fatigue, try going for a walk. Talk to your RD about foods that might aggravate or improve side effects. For instance, try ginger tea to reduce nausea. Don’t drink concentrated fruit juice, but do eat a banana and some plain rice if you have diarrhea. And avoid acidic or spicy foods if you have mouth sores.

5. Plan in advance.

Have easy-to-prepare foods on hand. Write things down. Recruit help from family and friends: let them know how they can help you plan ahead and what would benefit you most.


Another cookie recipe. (Always with the cookie recipes.)


They’re not fancy. They’re not made from the ingredient of the month. They’re not revolutionary. They ARE simple to make and a joy to eat. I present to you, without further comment...

Delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that happen to be vegan.


¼ cup unrefined coconut oil

¼ cup Earth Balance butter replacement spread

½ cup granulated (vegan) sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 Tbs soy milk

1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup oats

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup (vegan) chocolate chips

¼ cup finely chopped walnuts  


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Beat together coconut oil, Earth Balance, sugars, vanilla, and soy milk until smooth.

3. Add flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, combine until just mixed.

4. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

5. Form cookies about 2” in diameter on cookie sheet (lined with parchment for easier clean-up and cookie removal). Dough will be crumbly, but will hold form when pressed together with clean fingers.

6. Bake for about 8 minutes, until just set. 



Fresh pear and cardamom cake with buttercream frosting

Go here. Scroll down. 

Because cake. 

Recipe developed for and photo property of Food & Nutrition magazine, November/December 2014. 


On milk, bodies, and bones

Raise your hand if you were taught to drink milk “for strong bones” when you were growing up.

Me, too.

Remember images like this?

And a decade or so later, this?

Since then, Gen Xers, skateboarders, and nutritionists alike have questioned that advice. A study published earlier this week in the British Medical Journal supports an idea that many plant-based eaters already believe: Milk might not, after all, do a body good.

In two large Swedish cohorts, higher milk consumption was associated with poorer health outcomes. Women who drank 3 or more cups of milk daily were 16% more likely to experience any bone fracture and 60% more likely to suffer a hip fracture compared with women who drank less than a cup a day. Drinking more milk also was associated with significantly higher risks of cancer and heart disease in women, and higher all-cause mortality in both women and men.

I hear vegans shouting vindication, while the National Dairy Council is unavailable for comment. But what have we really learned here?

One explanation for the study’s results is that D-galactose, a product of the milk sugar lactose, increases oxidative stress, inflammation, and bone loss. These effects have been demonstrated in mice. Of note, yogurt and cheese intake were not associated with higher morbidity or mortality in the BMJ study. They were also not associated with elevated urine and serum markers of oxidative stress and inflammation (8-iso-PGF2 alpha and interleukin 6, respectively), whereas milk intake was. Other studies suggest a lower likelihood of heart attack and insulin resistance (which is increasingly implicated in cancer and other diseases), as well as more favorable short-term biomarkers, with yogurt- and cheese-containing diets. Quite the opposite with diets high in milk. We know that other fermented and cultured foods offer health benefits. Perhaps this is so with dairy, too.

Of course, there are myriad other possibilities. Maybe people who drink the most milk also eat more red meat and fewer vegetables, or exercise less. Maybe they’re more likely to be of a certain ancestry or ethnic group. They probably aren’t lactose-intolerant; this might be due to genetic differences compared with people whose bodies are unable to digest milk. Any of these factors could be the link with worse outcomes in the heavy milk drinkers, rather than just the milk itself.

It’s important to remember this study was observational, not the gold-standard prospective, double-blind, randomized controlled trial. The study authors explain that “no randomised trial has examined the effect of milk intake on incidence of mortality and fracture,” and “long-term experimental evidence is needed to confirm a causal association.” Point taken. But practically speaking, how do we conduct a sizeable, replicable study in which one group drinks milk, another doesn’t, but neither participants nor researchers can know who’s drinking what, and participants actually adhere to strict diet protocols in the real world, for years upon years? Furthermore, who’s going to fund it? Sometimes, in nutrition research, the “gold standard” really isn’t. No, we can’t draw a cause-and-effect conclusion from the current information. But do we always need perfect causal evidence in order to make practical and sensible whole-foods diet choices?

Now would also be the time to bring up two of what I call my broken-record words: moderation and variety. Eat excessive amounts of any given food, or eat it day after day after day, and your body needs to process a whole lot of whatever is in there, for better or for worse. Choose a balanced diet with a broad array of foods and you’ll promote greater benefits, fewer risks. More isn’t always better. Diversify and practice portion control. Why not have some aged Parmesan on your salad today, but garbanzos tomorrow? A little milk in your morning coffee, but not a 16-ounce glass with every breakfast? Soy milk in this week’s grocery shop, almond milk in the next?

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings of dairy foods every day to help reduce the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, as well as promote good bone health. To me, that’s unacceptable. It may be a boon to the powerful dairy industry lobby, but it’s not supported by the literature, doesn’t distinguish among types of dairy foods or account for production methods, and makes a sweeping assumption about what’s best for all persons and bodies. Ridiculous. The most healthful diets are personalized, adaptable, and sustainable over time. They’re not about taking sides, catching trends, or getting someone re-elected.

They also probably don’t include upwards of three glasses of milk per day.



Superfoods and Everyday Heroes

I’d like to retire the word “superfood.”

I don’t think a select few vegetables and fruits are the end-all and be-all. This isn’t to say kale and blueberries aren’t healthful and delicious. But choosing a variety of whole plant foods as part of a balanced diet is what’s key. Are goji berries better than apples? Are chia seeds better than pumpkin seeds? Not necessarily.

Our bodies work best when we support them with a heterogeneous array of foods. We need a wide variety of nutrients for optimal physiologic function. I would argue that we are better off eating many different foods that naturally contain different nutrients than focusing on a handful of foods that are extremely high in select nutrients.

Interestingly, even within a particular group of foods, there are variations in nutrients and phytochemicals (many of which I’m convinced we are still in the very early stages of understanding). Take green vegetables. Spinach, kale, bok choy, collards, chard, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts have similarities, but they’re not nutritional clones. Bok choy, for instance is a great source of bioavailable calcium, whereas the calcium in spinach is less abundant and less absorbable.

Getting too much of certain compounds can be just as harmful as not getting enough. This usually isn’t a concern unless an individual is taking vitamin or mineral supplement pills, but it is certainly possible. In a case that received wide attention earlier this year, a woman described how juicing large quantities of raw kale, flax, and certain other “superfoods” contributed to a thyroid imbalance. This may be an extreme example, but it makes a point: More isn’t always better.

Furthermore, if any given food contains a certain contaminant, either natural or synthetic, our bodies can eliminate that uninvited guest more easily if we’re eating that food twice a week versus twice a day.

It’s also best for the environment if we embrace diversity in our diets. Consider the acai berry, native to Brazil, and lately hailed as superfood. Since the demand for this fruit has skyrocketed, traditional harvesting techniques are no longer sufficient to meet market needs. This may result in clear-cutting of rich, biodiverse swathes of rainforest to make room for a single crop that is currently more financially profitable. One Brazilian agronomist calls this a “form of green deforestation.” We simply don’t know the ultimate expense.

Nutrition aside, choosing lots of different foods is just plain more enjoyable than focusing on only the rock stars. The same way I wouldn’t want to live in a world with only superheroes, I wouldn’t want to live in a world with only “superfoods.” How sad, to never experience the crunch of Romaine lettuce on a sandwich, the sweetness of fresh oranges and green grapes, or the tang of a Vidalia onion! I’ve never heard these referred to as superfoods, but they certainly add joy to my diet.

Ironman and Superman are sexy. But I’d rather have dinner with with my best friend, walk along the beach with my mom, and snuggle on the couch with my cat than with any superhero.

Let’s agree that ALL vegetables and fruits are heros: valuable, scrumptious, and yes, super.