Jane Macdougall: What a cancer expert eats for breakfast

February 8, 2014
"Dr. Gerry Krystal was silhouetted by the sweeping vista commanded by the B.C. Cancer Agency building. Behind him, the city was bristling with joggers, cyclists and, even in the dead of winter, kayakers paddling in False Creek. We are a city renowned for its healthy lifestyle.

Jennifer Sygo: Get to the roots of gut health by understanding good and bad bacteria and IBS triggers

How much do our everyday choices affect the health of our digestive system? Perhaps more than we ever imagined, actually. After a recent symposium on the effects of stress on our health (full disclosure: the symposium was sponsored by Jamieson, the supplements company), I had the opportunity to speak with Alexandra Anca, (Master’s of Health Science), who is a registered dietitian and author specializing in medical nutrition therapy for digestive diseases, celiac disease and food allergies. We spoke on the topic of gut health, and IBS specifically.
In addition to being a Distinguished Scientist at the Terry Fox Lab at the B.C. Cancer Agency, Krystal is a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Sciences at the University of British Columbia. He cycles to work. He smiles a lot. His diet is pristine. If Krystal were sushi, he’d be premium grade bluefin tuna.
The doctor and I were talking further about the role of nutrition in disease prevention. The bucket of coffee — two sugars — I’d perched on his desk had me feeling like I was blowing smoke rings in the maternity ward. Coffee — cherished elixir of life — is acidifying and that causes nasty inflammation. Sugar? Well, as we learned last week, sugar is the handmaiden to the undertaker.
We’d already discussed the findings from his studies with mice on high carb, low protein, Western-style diets. The high rates of cancer and the truncated lifespans that accompany a diet that induces spikes in blood glucose levels were clearly illustrated. To recap: cancer craves carbs and metastasis is encouraged by the pH changes that accompany high cellular glucose combustion. Food matters.
Emerging science is revealing that our bodies are far more complicated than we’d imagined. In the years ahead, you’ll be hearing a lot about the human microbiome, that community of microbes that co-evolves within your body, exerting significant influence on your immune system. Part of the co-evolution of these on-board bacteria is based on what you feed them. Just as there was the Human Genome Project, there is now the Human Microbiome Project, which is attempting to identify and characterize the micro-organisms abundant in both healthy and diseased humans. How abundant? Well, wash your hands all you want; numerically speaking, we are more microbes than we are human cells: a ratio of 10 to one. There is even talk of declaring the microbiome as a new organ of the human body and classifying people by their enterotypes, which is to say, according to which bugs live in their guts.
Microbiota can be friendly, benign or pathogenic
Microbiota can be friendly, benign or pathogenic. Some of these micro-organisms are now suspected of playing a role in chronic diseases, like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer, and even neuro-chemical imbalances. Many of the microbiota respond to our lifestyle choices. Food, of course, is amongst the most major of lifestyle variables. Bad food gives bad bugs ammo.
As Krystal rhapsodized about adenosine triphosphate, peptide chains and our fellow traveller, the microbiome, my eyes glazed over. I found myself wondering what he’d had for breakfast.
I mean, if you had insider information on the complex interactions between our cells, food, our microscopic bugs, and the consequences, what would you eat? If you’d seen with your own eyes the damage caused by poor choices, what choices would you make on a daily basis?
Well, apparently, it’s all about unsweetened protein. The basis of Krystal’s breakfast is plain gelatin powder and whey powder isolate. Yes: yum! He mixes these two ingredients together, using it as a base for a nut and cereal mix composed of oats — both rolled and bran — almonds; ground flax seed; pecans; plus pumpkin and sesame seeds. Over a bowl full of this, he sprinkles All Bran cereal, then instead of milk, adds whey isolate mixed with water. He recommends whey isolate because the fats and lactose — milk sugar — are removed.
He favours protein-rich almonds — slivered so as to be easier on tooth surfaces — for snacking where necessary
Sugar intake is carefully monitored.
This high protein meal usually holds him until midday. If it doesn’t, he favours protein-rich almonds — slivered so as to be easier on incisal and occlusal tooth surfaces. The doctor thinks of everything.
Lunch and dinner are likely either pink salmon or chicken, and salad with canola oil due to its preferable omega 3/6 ratio over other vegetable oils, quinoa or brown rice, and a wide variety of vegetables. He’ll also have either a pear, an apple or a grapefruit, as they sit lower on the glycemic index than other fruit.
One thing a cancer researcher will never have is soda pop or juice. In fact, Krystal says if you do nothing else, renounce juice and soda pop. Pop usually contains about 200 sugar calories. The body doesn’t properly recognize them as food calories dissolved in water and, therefore, doesn’t signal leptin secretions from fat cells to tell the brain the body has just been reloaded with 200 calories. You can surf a Coca-Cola sugar high all day and still actually be hungry, despite ingesting hundreds of calories. If you must have juice, have it with pulp, as pulp is insoluble fibre, which moves more quickly through the alimentary canal, somewhat limiting the spike in blood glucose and insulin. Best bet? Whole fruit, or plain tap water.
Come the weekend, however, Gerry eats whatever Gerry wants. Chocolate cake? Pizza? Bring it (moderately) on! But here’s a cancer cognoscenti’s trick for reducing ill effects from these indulgences. It’s based on his well-considered conjecture that, by lowering the pH of your food — making it more acidic — you can lower the glycemic index by as much as half. He does this by finding ways of adding four teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice to his meal.
He cautions that this isn’t proven science yet, but he feels it’s a defensible deduction. He also warns not to brush your teeth for a half hour afterwards to avoid abrading softened tooth enamel. Like I said, the doctor thinks of everything!
Out the window I could still see people in breathless pursuit of the longevity and health. Exercise is essential, but if we don’t figure out how to properly feed ourselves, just watch as our socialized medical system collapses under the metabolic effects of the pitiful, standard Western diet."

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