Pam Braun knows firsthand the power of food. A late-stage cancer survivor, she’s sure that food saved her life – but only after she changed what she ate.
Ten years since her Stage 3 diagnosis of fallopian tube cancer, Braun not only survived, but thrived. She credits diet and exercise as key to her fight against the disease.
“This is very important,” Braun said during a recent visit to Sacramento. “One out of every three women will have cancer sometime in their lifetime; one out of every two men will have cancer. Children born today have a 50-50 chance. But one-third of cancers could be avoided by diet and exercise. That’s why this is now my calling.”
Those numbers are echoed by the American Cancer Society. Its most recent statistics estimate that in the United States nearly 44 percent of all males will develop some form of cancer and 23 percent are at risk of dying from the disease. Females face a 38 percent risk of developing cancer and a 19 percent risk of dying.
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Pulling from her own ordeal, Braun, a former restaurant owner and chef, wrote “The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook” (Vireo, $19.95) featuring 225 recipes and cancer-fighting food tips.
Already in its second printing since its October release, her book has been well received, particularly within the cancer community, Braun said.
“It’s been very rewarding,” said Braun, 62. “When I started this 10 years ago, there really was no evidence (if changes in diet) helped cancer patients. But every year, more evidence is coming out. We’ve discovered that some foods may cause (or contribute to) cancer while others help prevent it.
“I was so desperate when I started this – I was given a 15 percent chance (of survival) – I decided, I’m doing it,” she added. “What have I got to lose?”
Braun, who lives in Van Nuys in Southern California, sees herself as a typical middle-aged woman who had a typical American diet, before she got sick.
“I was like your average American,” she said. “I was 52 when I got sick, slightly overweight. I weighed 25, 30 pounds more than I do now. With middle age, my weight had crept up. I wasn’t exercising. I didn’t eat that badly but I didn’t eat that well. When I got sick, I didn’t ask, ‘Why me?’ I thought, ‘Why not me?’ I was a perfect candidate.
“But now there’s convincing evidence that diet matters,” she added. “To me, it seems like a no-brainer.”
In her book, Braun goes into detail, distilling findings from scores of studies on how certain foods may impact cancer and why.
Some sample findings: With its high concentrations of the antioxidant glutathione, asparagus may be very effective in strengthening immune systems. A Russian study showed beet juice inhibited the growth of cancer-causing chemicals in the stomach from nitrates commonly found in bacon and other processed foods. A Japanese study of 42,000 adults showed that consuming citrus daily reduced risk of all cancers by 17 percent, particularly if the subjects also drank a daily cup of green tea.
“There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests food can help prevent cancer,” she noted.
The foods to avoid or consume in moderation? They’re familiar candidates: red meat, processed food, salt and alcohol.
“You’re supposed to limit salt to less than 1,500 milligrams a day,” she said. “That’s a little less than a teaspoon. But there’s so much salt in processed food. You can easily be eating teaspoons of salt without realizing it.”
The good guys? Fresh fruits and vegetables (five servings a day), whole grains, nuts and berries.
“Garlic is really good, too,” Braun added. “Several herbs and spices are good; you eat so little but they pack a really big punch. There are more antioxidants in oregano than blueberries. Grow some fresh oregano and add it to your salads.”
Pulling from her own experience as a food professional, Braun developed easy everyday recipes that anyone could make, using everyday ingredients.
“You can eat well while shopping at your local supermarket,” she said. “There are no weird ingredients in my cookbook; just normal food. I wanted to make it accessible as well as healthy and delicious.
“My signature dish is stuffed french toast,” she added. “It’s very good-looking and ridiculously simple to make. You can serve it to company, too. People love it.”
Even a few simple changes will add up to better health – and less cancer risk, Braun noted.
“The main thing to remember: Stay away from processed foods and eat fresh,” she added. “It makes a difference.”
Stuffed french toast
Serves 2 to 3
Pam Braun calls this her “signature dish.” “Blueberries, walnuts, cinnamon and almond butter are all full of antioxidants that help protect you against cancer,” she said. From “The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook” by Pam Braun (Vireo, 228 pages, $19.95)
4 tablespoons almond butter
4 pieces whole grain or whole wheat bread
2 bananas, sliced thinly long ways
4 large strawberries, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup nonfat milk or soymilk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Canola oil spray
Zest of 1 large orange
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Dusting of powdered sugar (optional)
Spread almond butter evenly on 4 pieces of bread; this will help hold the french toast together. Place the sliced bananas evenly on top of the almond butter on 2 pieces of bread. Place sliced strawberries evenly on top of bananas and blueberries evenly on top of strawberries.
Make 2 sandwiches by placing the almond butter-covered piece of bread on top of the fruit-layered pieces of bread. Press the sandwiches down lightly (so that they hold together when dipped into the egg mixture). Cut sandwiches into quarters diagonally.
In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk, cinnamon, salt and almond extract. Whisk well. Dip the sandwich quarters into the egg mixture to coat thoroughly.
Preheat a griddle or skillet to medium. Spray the preheated griddle or skillet with canola oil spray. Place the dipped sandwich quarters onto the griddle or skillet and cook for 3 minutes on each side, flipping the sandwiches until both sides have a golden brown color.
When fished cooking, dust the quarters with citrus zest and top with toasted walnuts. Dust with a very light dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.
Garlic salad pizza
Feel free to be creative with the “salad” topping and modify it to match your taste, said author Pam Braun. Adapted from “The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook” (Vireo, 228 pages, $19.95)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Cornmeal for dusting
1 whole wheat pizza crust (12-inch, recipe follows)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons low-fat grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded cheese (part-skim mozzarella, veggie or soy)
1 cup arugula greens
1 cup mixed salad greens
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cucumber, sliced thinly
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion until translucent. Stir in garlic and cook another minute or two. Set aside to cool.
Sprinkle pizza paddle with a little cornmeal. Place the rolled-out pizza dough onto the paddle or place pizza dough onto a cooling rack that is at least as large as the rolled out dough. Using the paddle, slide the dough directly onto the oven rack in the center of a preheated oven. Or place the cooling rack in the center of the preheated oven. Cook until dough is slightly firm, about 3 minutes.
When the dough is slightly firm, carefully remove from oven using the paddle or by removing the cooling rack. Do not turn off oven. Brush dough with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and evenly spread garlic/onion mixture over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle on both cheeses.
Place pizza back in oven and continue to cook until the crust is crisp and the cheese is melted, about 7 to 10 minutes more. Check occasionally. While pizza is cooking, toss together arugula, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in a medium bowl. Mix together remaining oil and vinegar; season to taste, then dress the greens.
Remove pizza from oven and top with salad. Cut with pizza cutter or large knife.
Whole wheat crust
2 packages active dry yeast
3/4 cup water (110-115 degrees F)
3 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons raw brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup nonfat or soy milk (110-115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Whole wheat flour for dusting
Cornmeal for rolling
Olive oil spray
Dissolve yeast in a small bowl with lukewarm water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Place flour, raw brown sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well. Slowly add milk, yeast and oil while mixing until dough comes together into a ball.
Sprinkle flour on tabletop or counter and place dough on work surface. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Spray a large bowl with olive oil spray. Place dough in oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to sit in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about one hour. Punch dough down and allow to rise again, about 30 minutes.
Split dough into four balls. Each ball will make a 12-inch crust. (Wrap and freeze what you don’t use immediately.)
Serves 3 to 4
“Red beets may prove to be a powerful cancer-fighting food,” Pam Braun said. “The pigment that gives beets their rich color is betacyanin, and it’s been shown in several studies to be an effective cancer fighter.”
From “The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook” by Pam Braun (Vireo, 228 pages, $19.95)
2 large red beets
2 large golden beets
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
3 cups arugula
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim the tops and roots off the beets and wash the vegetables pretty well. Separate the golden from red beets. Cut two large pieces of foil. Place the red beets in the center of one piece, the golden beets in the center of the other. Fold each piece of foil over and seal each packet so beets are tightly enclosed. Place the beet packets on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven until the beets are soft, about 1 hour.
Test the beets by poking through the foil with the tip of a sharp knife. If the knife glides in smoothly, the beets are done.
Remove from oven and allow the beets to cool while still in foil. When cool enough to handle, open the packets carefully. Run the beets under cold water while rubbing them. The skin will peel off easily. Still keeping the beets separate, slice the beets and place the red beets in a small bowl and the golden beets in a second bowl.
In another large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mustard. Add the beets, basil and walnuts; toss gently. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on beds of arugula.