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Diet & Nutrition

Cancer Fighting Diet and Foods

Begin by making a plan to remove toxins from your diet, and instead load your body with cancer-fighting foods.

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Q: I have been diagnosed with skin cancer. I tried chemotherapy and other conventional treatments, but I simply can’t tolerate them. Trying to figure out what to do next is overwhelming—the amount of holistic treatments out there is mind-boggling! If I can’t tolerate conventional cancer treatments and want to pursue alternative treatments, where is the first place to begin?

—Tanya W., Madison, Wis.

A: Many people have overcome cancer by using natural treatments or a combination of natural and conventional treatments. One place to begin searching for beneficial treatments is to look at how other people have successfully overcome cancer using natural therapies. One such person is James Templeton, author of the new book, I Used to Have Cancer: How I Found My Own Way Back to Health (Square One Publishers, 2019).

More than three decades ago, at age 32, Templeton was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. He had surgery and started chemotherapy and an experimental treatment to combat the cancer, but they didn’t work well, and he couldn’t tolerate the treatments. He then began a journey of healing that involved following a macrobiotic diet (based primarily on locally and organically grown whole grains, vegetables, beans, and wild-caught fish), supplementing with vitamin C, and engaging in regular exercise and meditation. His healing path also led him to author and nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, who first helped him learn that he had parasites and how to treat them, and later, became his life partner.

Templeton extensively studied natural treatments for cancer for years, and recently created the Templeton Wellness Foundation ( as a source of information for breakthrough strategies and tools to help beat and prevent cancer. With this background, he acknowledges that his unique path to healing might not necessarily be yours. Cancer is a complex, multifactorial disease, and the pathology and best treatments likely vary from individual to individual—even among people who have been diagnosed with the same type of cancer.

Cancer-Fighting Diet Basics

Improving your diet, the cornerstone of any good healing plan, is an excellent place to start in pursuing natural treatments for cancer. Unfortunately, one diet does not fit all.

One person may boost their immune system best on a vegan diet; another may do so on a high-fat, low-carb, ketogenic diet; and others on still other types of diets. Finding the right eating plan may take some experimenting.

If you haven’t been prescribed a diet, Templeton recommends the following points to keep in mind, which he considers “non-negotiable” in terms of eating to help the immune system fend off cancer.

1. Choose organic, non-GMO foods. 

Conventional foods may contain residues of dangerous pesticides, including glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen. Plus organic foods contain more health-promoting vitamins and nutrients.

2. Avoid processed foods. 

They contain additives, such as MSG, trans-fats, chemical preservatives, and artificial sweeteners and colors. Research has found that simply eating processed foods contributes to high inorganic blood mercury levels, which makes you more prone to many diseases, including cancer.

3. Stay away from sugar. 

Cancer feeds on sugars, including fruit sugar and the glucose that the body makes from grains and other starchy foods. This means that it’s important to avoid not just table sugar but all other forms of sugar, including molasses, maple sugar, honey, corn syrup, and fruit. If you opt to eat fruit, limit yourself to small amounts of low-sugar fruit with cancer-fighting phytonutrients, such as organic blueberries or strawberries.

Top cancer-fighting foods:

  • Cruciferous vegetables (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress, garden cress)
  • Members of the garlic/onion family (garlic, onions, leeks, chives, scallions)
  • Lettuces and greens (endive, escarole, romaine)
  • Beans and peas (adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, pinto beans)
  • Celery and celery root
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms (cremini, reishi, shiitake)
  • Squash (buttercup and kabocha)
  • Seaweed (kombu, arame, dulse, kelp)

Healthy Tip!

A diet packed with cancer-fighting foods is a crucial component of any treatment regimen.

Be mindful about your protein intake. 

Some amino acids found in animal protein, especially leucine and tyrosine, can stimulate cancer growth—and the enzymes that your pancreas produces, which are important for the destruction of cancer cells, are used up faster by eating too much meat, according to Templeton. He recommends restricting animal protein for many people with cancer. However, based on what he has studied and read, people with lymphomas, sarcomas, myelomas, and melanomas may require more protein. If this is the case, he recommends limiting red meat and opting for chicken, turkey, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised, organic eggs.

5 Ways to Reduce Cancer Environmental Risk Factors

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated two-thirds of all cancers are caused by environmental factors. We can’t control everything in our environment, but we can take steps to eliminate those factors under our control and limit our exposure to others. In addition to cleaning up your diet, try these environmental cleanup strategies from I Used to Have Cancer:

  1. Take precautions to limit your exposure to outdoor air contaminants. When pumping gas, stand away from the pump and try not to breathe in the gasoline fumes. If at all possible, avoid living near a nuclear power plant. And don’t expose yourself to dangerous herbicides such as glyphosate-based Roundup.
  2. Consider putting a good air purifier in your home or office. It can help protect you and your family from harmful contaminants in the air you breathe indoors. Also, some plants are natural air purifiers. Aloe vera, for example, helps rid the air of formaldehyde, which is found in mortuaries and hair salons, and the red emerald philodendron helps remove all indoor toxins.
  3. If you smoke, do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor and quit. At least 69 of the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer.
  4. Be aware of radon. This radioactive, colorless, odorless gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. If you have symptoms such as a persistent cough, wheezing, and frequent infections, perform a test to determine if you’re being exposed to high levels of radon in your home. You can buy test kits from home improvement stores, hardware stores, and online.
  5. Avoid exposure to pesticides. Using synthetic chemical pesticides in your home or yard has deleterious health effects, and some are probable or possible carcinogens. Opt for natural pest control strategies. Keep floors and counters as clean and disinfected as possible so as not to attract pests. Use essential oils, diatomaceous earth, and other natural solutions as much safer options. For example, consider peppermint essential oil to repel ants, flies, and spiders, and cedarwood to repel roaches, moths, and weevils.

Read All About It

I Used to Have Cancer (Square One Publishers, 2019) is an inspiring look back at James Templeton’s unique journey in overcoming stage 4 melanoma.

I Used to Have Cancer (Square One Publishers, 2019) is an inspiring look back at James Templeton’s unique journey in overcoming stage 4 melanoma. Templeton crisscrossed America, finding various natural approaches to battle his cancer—from diet and supplements to meditation and lifestyle adjustments. As his journey continued, his definition of success changed from making money to seeing the next sunrise. And he continues finding success by reaching out to others to share the lessons he has learned.

While this book largely focuses on the various methods Templeton used to overcome his own cancer, it’s also about taking control of your life and finding a way back from the brink of death. It’s about being able to tell your friends, ‘I used to have cancer.’

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