What foods were popular in 1917? How was treatment for cancer provided 100 years ago? Which health organizations were available? I learned more about the history of nutrition and cancer treatment recently when I attended the 2017 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo , the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in Chicago. The Academy was founded in 1917 around the same time that the American Cancer Society was established in 1913. In the early 1900 s cancer was considered fatal. Surgery and pain control were offered as the only treatments for cancers. Nutrition from plants, teas, and fortified home-cooked foods was also encouraged. In addition to looking back at cancer and nutrition history, speakers at the conference also presented new, cutting-edge information and research about nutrition. We’ve come a long way, baby! Here are a few insights.
From Dr. Sanjay Gupta, MD, Neurosurgeon and CNN’s Chief Medical Consultant
Look at nutrition and food recommendations with a research eye. Evaluate what the science says about food. Don’t just repeat old information to the public. For example, food is medicine for some cultures, especially those which have the most active lifestyle and eat whole foods. Living in what is referred to as the “Blue Zone,” these are some of the healthiest groups of people in the world. What can we learn from these populations? One Amazon tribe in Bolivia works all day to obtain and cook the food they eat. They are very physically active, walking 17,000 steps over 6 to 7 hours daily as subsistence farmers. This group of people sees very little incidence of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health issues. You can reduce the risk of disease by getting back to basics: keep physically active and choose wholesome foods.
Overly restrictive meal plans and popular diets may lead to eliminating food groups and key nutrients like B Vitamins, minerals, protein, and some fibers. People who were healthy prior to their cancer diagnosis may intentionally limit their food variety in their quest to survive cancer, only to be at higher risk for malnutrition. Malnutrition during cancer is an uphill battle that not everyone can win. Consumers beware when embarking on diets that exclude food sources of active, wholesome nutrients, especially during cancer treatment.
Fasting (withholding food) was once associated only with religious observances, but now, fasting is becoming a popular trend as seen on television and in popular magazines. With the challenges of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, you should only use fasting under close medical supervision. Why? Cancer and cancer treatments can cause reduced intake of calories, fluids, protein, and electrolytes as does fasting. Together fasting and cancer treatments can be a high-risk combo for malnutrition. Always talk with your healthcare team before changing your diet.
Handgrip strength is a clinical measurement that can be a characteristic of protein-calorie malnutrition. Digital handgrip testing is now being used more frequently in hospital and outpatient settings to aid in the diagnosis of malnutrition.
People with cancer are often surviving longer and living more active lives. Once only given 3 months to live when cancer was diagnosed in the early 1900s, children and adults today are thriving and adding new dimensions to their lives even with cancer. At the conference, we were encouraged to empower people with cancer to take the best care of their bodies and food habits, even during treatment. Many with cancer are living more enjoyable years, so now there is a renewed focus on nutrition strategies which encourage a healthy body weight, strong heart, and physical strength.
Many new food products were showcased in Chicago. Some that caught my eye were new fortified foods that provide extra nutrition in small bites to help you bridge the gap during cancer treatment or recovery. New snacks that are made with even more fruits and vegetables were unveiled such as watermelon flavored raisins, whole, flash-frozen blueberries, pasta with extra vegetables, fortified beverages, and goodies that can provide 30% of your daily protein needs, just to name a few. I especially liked the convenience of individually packed salad portions, protein bars with lemon flavoring, cheese with extra dietary protein, and refreshing beverages with electrolytes that also tasted great! High-maize resistant starch (flour) was showcased with recipe ideas and the benefits of high-fiber with less carbohydrate content. Look for new products at your grocery store!
What we know about food and disease from the last 100 years can propel us to better outcomes and individualized nutrition strategies. Use nutrition research and best practices to transform your and your family’s health for the best it can be. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. Make healthy choices today for you.