Originally published in 1998 in Austin Etc. Magazine

Green Diet Helps Austinites Beat Cancer,

Heart Disease

By Adrienne deWolfe

Six years ago, Carolyn Thomason was the healthiest person she knew.

Each week, she ground her own wheat and baked her own breads. She routinely digested bee pollen and wheat germ. She knew how to treat all her minor illnesses with herbs and vitamin supplements.

That's why her diagnosis of ovarian cancer came like a bolt out of the blue.

"I kept asking myself, why me?" said Thomason, now 58, and the mother of ten children. "I always prided myself on never getting sick... But I think the problem began when I started wearing myself out. I probably didn't get a good night's sleep for twenty years, and I was (heavily) involved in the community and church."

Thomason refused surgery, in spite of strong counsels from her physician and friends. "Most of us relinquish the right (to heal ourselves) to our doctors. I believe each of us knows what's best for our bodies. I knew other people had survived cancer without surgery, and I wanted an alternative... Still, I agonized over the decision."

In the month before Thomason's second ultrasound, she discovered the benefits of a raw-food diet. She ate fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that had not been cooked, baked, or processed in any way. After she fueled her body for thirty days with the live enzymes found in plant food, Thomason's ovary showed no trace of its earlier cyst. Her physician gave her a clean bill of health.

Thomason believes her raw-food, live-enzyme diet saved her life.

Because the body is alive, researchers are finding it needs live enzymes to survive. "(To heat) any food beyond 112 degrees kills (its live enzymes and) most of its nutrient value," says Don Wageck, director of the Fit for Life wellness center on Anderson Lane.

Like Thomason, the 67-year-old Wageck whole-heartedly believes his willingness to change his eating habits prolonged his life. An ordained minister whose multiple, stress-filled careers have included work with the Navy and an administrative position with a city government, Wageck suffered a heart attack when he was 43. Heart disease killed his father at the age of 47 and his brother at 55.

"Most of us eat unconsciously in this country," says Wageck, who became a vegetarian after his coronary. "For instance, to eat cream sauces is a learned behavior. We may have been taught (through ethnic custom) that cream sauces taste good, but does your body say they taste good? It is important to listen to what the body needs" rather than what your taste buds crave.

More than 15 million adult Americans consider themselves vegetarians, according to a survey by Yankelovich Partners, and the federal government's recently released Guidelines for Americans concluded that vegetarian diets can meet recommended dietary allowances for nutrients.

Psychologist Lynn S. Jenkins, Ph.D., goes one step further. For three years, she has been studying research documents to write her paper, Preventing Cancer through Nutrition, and she says numerous studies now prove that meat and dairy products are actually harmful to a body's overall health. "It's hard to believe," admits Dr. Jenkins, who lost 70 pounds on her own journey to wholeness. "The reality is exactly the opposite of what we've been told all these years."

For instance, Harvard University investigated all previous studies compiled by Lancet, the British counterpart of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and concluded that a protein-rich, meat-centered diet (including animal flesh, milk, and cheese) plays the strongest role in generating osteoporosis.

University of Wisconsin researchers have proved that high protein intake causes bone calcium to ebb.

Michigan State University's study of elderly female vegetarians showed that they lost less bone to osteoporosis than did a group of females of the same age who ate meat (hormones also played a part in this study).

For vegans, individuals who choose to eliminate all meat and dairy products from their diets, a combination of many fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients. A quarter cup of fresh peas, for instance, contains the same amount of protein as two eggs. Raw nuts, cabbage, okra, carrots, corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes are also among the many vegetables high in protein. Broccoli, Bananas, celery, legumes, peaches, apples, oats, and brown rice are among the many good sources of calcium.

"We Americans eat more than we need," said biochemist James Heffley, Ph.D, who works with Nutrition Counseling Service on Medical Parkway. "There are more nutrients per calorie in most vegetables, fruits, grains, and tubers than in, say, hamburger... Unfortunately, we Americans don't choose how much we eat based on nutrients per calorie. Instead, we eat based on the calorie amounts in a food."

In Cornell University's China Study, which was conducted by approximately 2,500 researchers over a twelve-year period, it was found that the Chinese have the lowest rate of degenerative diseases in the world. They routinely live more than 100 years as functional members of society. The Chinese eat no dairy products; 70 percent of their diet consists of raw fruits and vegetables and seven percent consists of meat.

By comparison, the average American diet consists of 70 percent meat products and seven percent fruits and vegetables. Our nation's top ten causes of death and disability include six degenerative diseases: heart disease, stroke, cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. Medical professionals now recognize that nutrition plays a significant role in preventing and treating these illnesses.

"It is ten times easier to prevent a (health) problem than to cure it once it exists," Dr. Heffley says. However, he cautions that the medical profession is ten to fifteen years behind the field of nutrition. "We expect a lot of our physicians, and they do great in crisis care. But doctors aren't always up on the latest nutritional findings.” As an example, Dr. Heffley points to the fact that many physicians are still recommending margarine over butter for their patients who suffer from heart disease. In the last four to five years, research has shown that butter is healthier.

Many people don't realize that the federal government's daily recommendations in the Food Guide Pyramid is only a minimum standard. According to Dr. Heffley, the government's daily index "can be off by 10 to 30 percent" on the nutrient amounts needed to insure high-level functioning.

"We are all unique on the inside, and our nutritional needs can vary from individual to individual," Dr. Heffley continues. "Most of us can't maintain (healthy) levels of nutrients from food alone. So for people without obvious diseases, a practical, affordable way to get vitamins and minerals is through supplements."