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Weekly Blog: Should food be thy medicine?

Community Manager
Community Manager
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I was enjoying a bit of friendly banter with one of my prostate cancer comrades in the UK on Twitter recently (as you do) when the topic of diet came up.

He and I have been in agreeance on most things – the need for better supportive care to manage the eviscerating effects of hormone therapy, the importance of patient advocacy and peer support, the critical role of exercise. So, I’d assumed we’d be simpatico on the key place of diet and nutrition in prostate cancer self-care, and specifically the virtues of a plant-based diet. I was wrong.

“Each to their own Tim. I’m not making myself miserable by switching to a plant-based diet! It’s bad enough living with stage 4 cancer without going down a route that denies me eating what I enjoy,” he tweeted.

Fair enough. I think that is an entirely valid response to a cancer diagnosis. Why deprive yourself of the simple pleasures of a lamb roast or a glass of red or bowl of ice cream when cancer has already wreaked havoc with your enjoyment of life?

But what I do think is that all men living with prostate cancer should be given the latest, evidence-based advice on the merits of a predominantly plant-based diet, to allow them to make informed decisions around what they eat. Even when I began to cite the clear evidence in support of a plant-based diet, my friend remained unmoved.

“To be honest I’m not convinced that once you’re in the club diet makes a lot of difference. Too late was the cry. The advice that I follow is to have a good balanced diet which I think I achieve. I hate vegetables which doesn’t help,” he responded.

This is a common refrain. While a healthy diet might reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer, once you are “in the club” can diet really make any difference? Most oncologists seem to agree with my friend that the answer is, no.

There is, however, mounting evidence in numerous studies that a predominantly plant-based diet can help slow the rise of PSA and potentially the progression of disease. It is not a cure and no one’s suggesting it take the place of conventional treatment, but as adjuvant lifestyle strategy, there’s much to recommend it and no real down side.

But what I realised from our Twitter exchange was that the issue for many men is that they equate healthy eating with misery. I saw one study that suggested a majority of American prostate cancer patients would rather die sooner than give up red meat. As my friend says, each to their own.

I’m not a doctor or medical researcher, so perhaps my expertise is best used here is in extolling the culinary pleasures of a healthy diet, that it doesn’t need to be a deprivation. A carrot rather than a stick, so to speak. So, herewith, a few of my favourite healthy, plant-rich meals:

1. Home-made, spelt flour, vegetarian pizza. This is a trusty go-to that the whole family loves. Spelt flour is better for you than regular flour, cooked tomato is a good source of lycopene which has been shown to reduce prostate cancer risk and may slow progression. Pile it with as much vegies as you want and go easy on the cheese. I’ve also made pizza with a cauliflower base which is delicious, but even I draw the line at faux, vegan, cashew “cheese”.

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2. Fish tacos. In my view, the perfect food. Fish are a rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids for heart health, and you can stuff them full of vegies - avocado, sprouts, red cabbage, lettuce, jalapenos, tomato salsa on gluten free, corn tortillas.

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3. Mushroom risotto made with home-made chicken stock, fresh parsley, garlic, onion. Even better the next day. Try making your own stock by boiling a chicken carcass for a couple of hours and you’ll never use bought stock again.

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4. Prawn salad with green tea noodles, edamame, shallots, avocado, sesame dressing.

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5. Home-made brown rice sushi with fresh prawns and avocado.

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6. Fresh ocean-caught Spanish mackerel steak with roasted potatoes and salad. You can’t go wrong with fresh, ocean-caught fish and a simple salad. Healthy and delicious.

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7. Thai red fish curry. So easy and impressive. Spoonful of Thai red curry paste, pan fry fish and vegies, add coconut cream, fish sauce, squeeze of lime. Serve with rice. Can use tofu instead of fish.

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8. Flourless, dairy-free, refined sugar-free chocolate cake with poached pear, fresh berries and coconut yoghurt. I’m a shocking sweet tooth so I had to find healthy desserts. This almond meal chocolate cake made with raw cacao, honey or maple syrup, coconut cream and olive oil, served with coconut yoghurt, poached pears and fresh berries is a winner.

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Nguyen, J. Y., Major, J. M., Knott, C. J., Freeman, K. M., Downs, T. M., & Saxe, G. A. (2006). Adoption of a plant-based diet by patients with recurrent prostate cancer. Integrative cancer therapies5(3), 214-223.

Mahdi Mirahmadi, Shayan Azimi-Hashemi, Ehsan Saburi, Hossein Kamali, Mandana Pishbin, Farzin Hadizadeh, Potential inhibitory effect of lycopene on prostate cancer,

Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy,Volume 129, 2020, 110459,ISSN 0753-3322.

About the Author


Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.

Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but seven years on, at 57, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting the Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.

Help is Available

Prostate Cancer Specialist Telenursing Service

If your life has been impacted by prostate cancer, our Specialist Telenursing Service is available to help. If you would like to reach out to the PCFA Prostate Cancer Specialist Telenurse Service for any questions you have about your prostate cancer experience, please phone 1800 22 00 99 Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm, Wednesday 10am-8pm (AEDT).

Prostate Cancer Support Groups

PCFA is proud to have a national network of affiliated support groups in each state and territory of Australia consisting of men and women who have a passion for assisting others who encounter prostate cancer. This network is made up of over 170 affiliated groups who meet locally to provide one-to-one support, giving a vision of life and hope after treatment. Call us on 1800 22 00 99 to find your local group.

MatesCONNECT Telephone-based peer support

MatesCONNECT is a telephone-based peer support program for men affected by prostate cancer. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, our MatesCONNECT service can connect you to a trained volunteer who understands what you’re going through. All of our volunteers have been through prostate cancer. Simply call us on 1800 22 00 99 to be connected with a volunteer.

Newly diagnosed? or need to find more information? Access the PCFA resources here.

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