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“‘Fat free’ to me meant health, so I thought I could eat a box of vanilla sandwich cookies and I was being healthy. But I wasn’t,” says Harris.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer with no genetic link at 40, I thought that I was the most fit and healthiest that I had ever been,” says Emmy-winning journalist Samantha Harris, now 44. “To me, eating healthily meant anything that was slapped with ‘low fat, low sugar.’ ‘Fat free’ to me meant health, so I thought I could eat a box of vanilla sandwich cookies and I was being healthy. But I wasn’t.”
All that changed once Harris began researching the possible cause of her cancer, and her findings led her to a radical dietary overhaul. She completely cut out chemically laden processed foods, including anything with high fructose corn syrup, and cut way back on red meat and dairy, both of which have also been linked to a potential increased risk of breast cancer.
Harris’s transformative story—and her wellness tips—are found in her new book Your Healthiest Healthy: 8 Easy Ways to Take Control, Help Prevent and Fight Cancer, and Live a Longer, Cleaner, Happier Life. “What I came to learn was that the changes I wanted to make in my daily life for ridding myself of toxins as much as possible will also positively affect prevention for other chronic diseases,” she says. “It was eye opening.”
How have your breakfasts evolved in your quest for cleaner eating?
My first step was getting away from having dairy every morning … my Greek yogurt or cereal with milk. When I switched to having a smoothie every day, I started with whey protein, and then I eventually moved to plant-based protein. I use a wheatgrass powder, as well as superfoods green powder—in addition to the kale and spinach I also add into the smoothies. There are a lot of other superfood boosts that can up your nutritional intake. For our family, that means chia and flax seed in our smoothies.
Actually, I think of my smoothie as sort of a kitchen sink. I throw in everything that I might not want to eat on its own or might not have time to eat on its own. Like matcha green tea powder, which has great anticancer properties. I’m not someone who really takes the time to just sip tea through the day. But a teaspoon in a smoothie is nice and easy.
What lunch and dinner food swaps do you recommend for beginners?
Number one is filling your plate at least half full every meal with veggies instead of animal protein to help you refocus on what a plate should look like. I think we all were raised where the slab of meat was the star of the show, with maybe a little side of veggies and a little carb of some sort, whether it’s a potato or rice.
Make sure that the fat that’s in there is a healthy fat, and then if you are still working with eating animal protein, try to minimize the amount. We’re always so impressed when we walk into a restaurant and they hand us a 20 oz. steak—“Look at all that we get to eat!”—but really it should be 2, 3, 4 oz. max. And then whittle from there and try to sub in plant-based protein a couple of times a week if you can. There are so many options available out there for your individualized plan.
That said, what do your second and third meals of the day look like?
I transition at lunchtime to a really large chopped salad that’s as colorful as possible, with healthy fats like avocado. Sometimes I’ll even throw some chia seeds on there, too, as well as lentils and garbanzo beans. Apple cider vinegar is one of those things on my journey to my healthiest that I would like to start to integrate more because of all its great benefits. So I will sprinkle it into my salad along with balsamic vinegar.
Dinner is usually where I tend to change it up the most. I might do a black bean salad or a lentil pasta. I still do eat some fish. I try to make sure if I’m giving fish to the family that it’s wild Alaskan salmon. I do splurge, though, and have a weekly sushi meal with the family. I do that knowing that it’s going to be higher in mercury and other environmental toxins. So part of this personalized sign of your healthiest healthy is figuring out where you want to make those exceptions. I would eat sushi every day if I could. I don’t—but I do allow myself to do it once a week.