Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tip #5: Read the book "Anticancer"

OK. This is a bit hard to explain. I mean, it's not hard to explain why I think you should read the book Anticancer by David Servan Schreiber, even if you don't have cancer. In a very compelling way, the author tells you about exciting research that shows that some simple lifestyle changes can have a huge impact in whether you develop cancer or not in the future. And, for those of us who already have it, those changes can slow it down. I liked that the book is full of scientific references that can be checked and followed and that he explains how cancer starts and develops in very simple terms, for someone like me, with no medical background. But the book is also compelling because he is telling us his own story, of how he discovered by accident that he had a brain tumor when he was a (somewhat arrogant) young researcher and what led him to research the topic and changed his own lifestyle when the cancer recurred five years later. And we learn a bit about his love life, how he met his wife, the birth of his son, his family back in France, which makes the book actually very entertaining as well.

The part that is harder to explain is that, unfortunately, he did die of his cancer, 19 years after his first diagnosis. This book was a lifesaver for me a year ago when I learned about my own diagnosis. It is full of hope, which is what we need most often in life. He gave me the hope I needed to stop crying and start moving. If the people in the research cases he described could do it, why couldn't I? I gave the book to everyone I knew needed it, saying "Look at him, he's doing so well." So, needless to say, it was very hard to hear about his death this past summer. What had happened? Well, Dr. Servan Schreiber was a remarkable person in every sense and he knew we would all be asking this question, so he wrote another book, Not the Last Goodbye, when he was diagnosed with the third recurrence of his brain tumor. In his view, he didn't follow his own advice about reducing stress in your life. But we also have to think that he was given at most 6 years of life with his first cancer, so the fact that he lived 19 is indeed a testament that his methods did work.

Well, in any case, I don't want to make this too long. What I really want to share here is that the changes that he proposes are related to not only diet, but also stress reduction (through contact with friends, family, support groups), exercise (so much more important than we think) and, all those things, if followed, will give you a much happier and healthier life, no matter what, so that's why I highly recommend reading that book.

And, for those of you who may be curious and cannot wait to read the book, here is a one hour lecture that the author gave some years ago where he explains why there is such an epidemic of cancer now and what kind of things we can do to prevent it. Like I said, it is an hour, but it is also entertaining and completely worth your time.

Many of the posts that I write here have their origin in this book. It changed my life. I hope it also helps you. Do you have another book recommendation we should know about? I'd love to hear about it! And thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tip #4: Use a high speed blender

I have owned my Vitamix for over 5 years now and many people ask me if I think it is worth it. A high speed blender like the Vitamix or the Blendtec is quite expensive, with most models at around $500, so it is an understandable question.I also have read some criticism that drinking your food may not be good for you because it may raise your blood sugar faster than if you eat the food whole. I have to say, though, that, in my experience, my Vitamix has been a wonderful addition to my kitchen and to my health and worth every penny.

I would say that I use my Vitamix practically every day. I start my morning usually with a green smoothy (like the one in the picture, with those ingredients, or similar). I also use it to make delicious salad dressings, soups and desserts. Let me explain each in more detail:
  • Salad dressings: I like that you can use natural ingredients to create amazingly rich and creamy dressings. For example, a simple one is an orange (or a banana), 4 tablespoons of vinegar, a handful of walnuts (or any other nuts) and a handful of raisins.So, so good. 
  • Soups: One great thing about the Vitamix is that it will heat your soups, so you can just put any ingredients you want and blend for 3 to 4 minutes, and voila, you have warm soup. For example, you can try a can of beans, a tomato, some pepper, a carrot, spices like cumin, you can add a bit of cashews to make it creamier, and you have another delicious concoction with no preparation in less than five minutes.
  • Desserts: You can make amazing ice cream like desserts just with frozen fruit, a bit of (soy) milk and cashews, with some dates added for sweetness. No nasty, unpronounceable ingredients that are bad for you. For my husband's latest birthday I made this delicious raspberry ganache fudge cake from Ani Phyo, no cooking involved. It was amazing. (By the way, in her video, she uses a food processor. I have never had one, so I don't know how it compares to the Vitamix, but I've never felt the need for one).
  • Flours: Lately, I have been grinding chick peas to make garbanzo bean flour that can be used for Falafels, for example (particularly good for anyone with gluten issues). Here's a great recipe for them.
  • Milks: If you are trying to avoid dairy, or even soy, you can just make milks out of nuts or rice easily in this machine. Here are the recipes for seven of them.
  • Chop: I also use my Vitamix to chop onions in seconds and, with newer models, you can also chop cabbage easily. You can chop other hard veggies, like carrots or celery, but I personally don't like them that small, I prefer bigger chunks.
I will add that it is very easy to clean, which is very important to me, as I always have lots of things to do (just like everyone). In general, some of the things I have mentioned can be made in a regular blender, but the Vitamix will still be faster no matter what. I really think that by using all natural ingredients and avoiding processed foods, you definitely contribute to your health, and the Vitamix is perfect for that.

And, as far as the criticism about raising your blood sugar levels too fast, I have to say that that has not been my experience, as I actually need to have my blood sugar tested every month. Of course, I definitely do not recommend smoothies full of fruits only, or adding too many sweeteners. Or even the cake I showed before, I would only have that very occasionally. But, the truth is that dates will always be better than any sugar, as they are much less processed and they are the real fruit. And with the Vitamix, dates are very easily ground.

So, I definitely think it is worth spending that money and my friends who have bought one are all pretty happy with theirs. There are refurbished models that are cheaper and still perfect and also big stores like Costco have specials once in a while.

So, what do you think? Do you have any questions or comments? I'd love to hear them.

PS: That picture shows my attempt to talk to Kris Carr, my hero, through Twitter. It hasn't worked yet (I stalk her, she ignores me), but one day I know she will finally say hi! (I'm just going to keep trying!).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tip #3: Smile

One of my 2012 New Year's resolutions (by, the way, this is the first year I made them, and so far, so good. This blog was one of them.) was to watch a TED TALK every day (or, at least, 5 a week). I had already watched some, and I always liked them, so I just wanted to do it in a more systematic way. I figured that they are short (most of them are around 20 minutes), so it would not take too much of my day, and I could feel that I was actually learning something, as they are always interesting and informative. I also like the fact that the topics are very varied but the speakers are always compelling, no matter their subject. So far, I have seen some great ones about education, the power of games, or even spaghetti sauce. I watch them on my TV, instead of the computer, which I also like better, thanks to our ROKU machine (something else I highly recommend). So, my "must see TV' this year are these TED talks and even my kids are enjoying them immensely (and that has been an added bonus).

In any case, the point of the tip is that one of the talks I saw really made me think about the power of being positive. You know, we always hear "be positive, think positive, smile at your cancer" and things like that and I do feel that, in general, yes, it is much better to be positive, but, how do we even start? Well, what about with a simple smile? In this TED talk (it's only 7 minutes, you have to watch!), Ron Gutman tells us about fascinating research done about smiles and how just a simple smile can influence our life course and many other tidbits. And, it will definitely make you smile.

So, next time you feel a bit down, just try to smile! What do you think?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tip #2: Eat well

All right. I don't know the answer to this one. What is the right diet? What do you have to eat (and not eat) to realize your full potential? I have read some books about this because of my own health issues and interests and I think I can say with confidence that I agree 100% with Michael Pollan's statement: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. OK. That didn't tell you that much (although I highly recommend reading his article). So, I will list here some diets that I feel follow that dictum and definitelively will not be bad for you. I am listing them in order according to how easy they may be to follow.
  1. Dr McDougall's Program: Vegan. No oils (not even olive oil) allowed. Very limited fats. But it is centered on starches like rice, bread and potatoes. And this is a huge plus. In my view, it is very easy to follow. It is the one I follow the most closely to for the rest of my family. I really like that he offers many of his contents for free through a very clear website, so it is inexpensive in terms of the food itself, as well as the materials.
  2. Dr. Fuhrman's Nutritarian Diet Style: Mostly vegan, also no oils, but he does allow for some healthy fats, like nuts and avocados. No salt. He has a lot of information on his website, but most of the recipes and good information are behind a paying wall. I don't have any doubt his program works. I just think it may be a bit difficult, particularly the no salt.
  3. Crazy, Sexy, Diet: This is also a low fat, vegan diet, but it focuses more on the acid/alkaline distinction in foods. I think this diet is perfect for anyone facing a health crisis at the moment. I also highly recommend the author's website, Crazy. Sexy, Life, for daily posts about health, mind and spirit. Kris Carr has been my inspiration in my latest journey. I could not think of a better hero to have.Her book also has many tips that go beyond diet (like meditation, dry-brushing or supplements) so it is a great book to have even if you decide not to follow her diet.
So, what do I eat? My daily goal is to eat as many varied vegetables as possible, making sure some of them are cruciferous vegetables (like kale, broccoli, etc.), mushrooms and tomatoes. I eat limited quantities of grains (because of the sugar connection to cancer) and I do eat fish sometimes (wild salmon or sardines, mostly). I have tried not to eat any sugar since last year. I sweeten my morning smoothies with stevia (more about this in another post) and sometimes I use dates as sugar for desserts (rarely). I also have 70% (or higher) dark chocolate once in a while. I do love nuts and seeds and I make sure everyday I eat two tablespoons of ground flax seeds.

After I read the book The China Study, I basically converted to a vegan diet.That was five years ago, four years after my first cancer diagnosis. I was convinced that I would never get cancer again because of my diet change. Well, I did get cancer again BUT I honestly feel that, because of my diet, I have been able to stay healthy despite the cancer. So, in other words, I don't think that a change in diet can protect you 100% against anything but I do believe, from experience, that, if you eat well, you will feel better and you will be healthier without a doubt (hey, my cholesterol levels are really low! At least something!).

In any case, I highly recommend any of the diets above, or a combination of them.

What do you eat that has helped you feel healthier and happier? I would love to know!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tip #1: Feel Gratitude

I am thankful for being here today. I am thankful for being able to write a blog. I am thankful that you are reading it (Hey! Thanks! You're the best!). Not only I am thankful, but I feel gratitude for all those things inside my heart. That gratitude, when I focus on it, fills me with a special joy.

This is my Tip #1 because I think it needs to be #1. Before you can have a healthier and happier life you need to be thankful and you need to feel the joy of thankfulness. I need to be reminded of it every day.

I believe this is a skill and can be learned like any other skill. Here's a very useful article from the New York Times which talks about the research that has been done about feeling gratitude. The results are quite impressive and, more importantly, the article also tells us how to increase our gratitude with some simple steps.

And here is a quote that I found in the website that summarizes what I feel:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
-Melodie Beattie
Do you have any tips to feel more grateful? Let us know!