Mom may have saved your life when she ensured you ate all your vegetables as a kid. Aside from boosting your mood and energy, eating healthy could help your body fight terminal illnesses like cancer. Dietitian and author of The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, Jean LaMantia has not only done the research to prove it, as a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease, she’s been able to practice what she preaches.
At the age of 23, LaMantia graduated with honours from University of Guelph with a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Human Nutrition and started her career with a clinical internship. She was diagnosed with cancer only four years later, the struggle changed her outlook on her profession entirely and helped her realize just how important nutrition is to survival. I sat down with LaMantia to find out how effective a plant-based diet is when faced with a terminal illness.
1. What did you learn from your battle?
“It certainly made me a better dietitian. No doubt. Because I could relate to people. Most 20 year olds can’t sympathize with people who are facing such dire health issues unless you’ve experienced this serious illness. You just can’t imagine what that’s like until you have been there and planned your funeral.”
2. Did your experience with Hodgkins Lymphoma inspire you to write the book The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook?
“That was a big part of it, but it was also my father’s struggle with cancer that caused me to do a lot of research. By the time I had learned how to improve his discomfort and increase his appetite it was too late, he had passed away. I wanted to share what I had learned through my experiences with cancer to help other people.”
3. How big a role does diet play in recovery?
“I think it can help on multiple levels. Eating fruits and vegetables has been found in the laboratory to kill cancer cells, this is not proven outside the lab but it is a good foundation.”
“Plus there is also a great study in my book about breast cancer patients and the people who were eating a very healthy diet felt better, it’s partly because they realized they were making a difference. Their mood was better and they had a sense of self empowerment. For that reason I believe it is helpful from a biochemical and an emotional standpoint.”
4. How does food help your body recover?
“The life of a cancer cell starts with inflammation of tissue. This leads to cell proliferation. The multiplied cells then invade the tissue and create their own blood supply. Finally they spread into other cells in the body. Eating the right foods can reduce inflammation, or keep these proliferated cells from invading the tissue. Also, there are studies of large populations and these people are required to record their eating habits. These studies show that people who eat plant-based diets have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.”
5. What other non-medical methods do you find are helpful for cancer recovery?
“As a dietician I really think that diet makes a difference but so can your state of mind. It is important to remain positive and believe that you can beat this. Exercise is also very important. There are other forms of therapy that may not be proven but my instinct is that there is a benefit, things like meditation and visualization.
Jean suggests patients join Wellspring, a free Canadian organization that provides services for those fighting cancer. By joining their community you receive free access to a variety helpful services including cooking, meditation and Tai Chi classes. As well as other therapeutic ventures.
Pictured below is Jean LaMantia: Dietitian and author of The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook