Diet and Breast Health: What’s the Connection?

A Conversation with Leslie Cerier, “The Organic Gourmet”

(Leslie is featured in The Breast Archives documentary) This interview is also posted on June 26, 2017

Thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy medicine.” Those words are as true today as they were then. The choices that we make at the grocery store and the farmer’s market have a clear effect on the health of our breasts. Read on to learn more my recent interview with Leslie Cerier, one of the nine women who bravely bared her body and soul in The Breast Archives. Leslie is an internationally recognized, organic farm to table vegetarian chef, educator, cookbook author, recipe developer, consultant, and award-winning nature photographer. Every day, she cooks gourmet, seasonal, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free meals for health and pleasure as a way to inspire others to discover and embody delicious living. Leslie joyfully offers retreats and B&B stays in her beautiful passive solar home.

Q: What is the relationship between diet and breast health?

A: Our diet keeps our whole immune system strong, and of course that includes our breasts. You know, many people think of food scientifically, in terms of calories and molecular building blocks. As a woman with healthy breasts, who prepares delicious and nourishing food as medicine for myself and others, when I cook for women with breast cancer, I take a less cerebral approach. What you eat creates a connection for your whole health. I think that it’s all about having a good connection to Mother Nature as the source of your food, and to the organic farmers whose farming practices sustain the planet upon which it’s grown. Eating locally and seasonally is about going to the farmer’s market, joining a (CSA) Community Supported Agricultural farm, or planting a little garden of your own. It’s about the art of self care, which includes nourishment on every level and sustaining the circle of life on our plates.

Q: What is the relationship between diet and breast cancer?

A: Well, there are two: one is the link between what we eat and the development of breast cancer, and the other is the link between our diets and recovery from breast cancer.

If you eat fake or unnatural food that is toxic, your system can develop all kinds of ailments including breast cancer. We see cancer in women who eat a lot of processed junk food, in women who live near farms and orchards that are routinely sprayed with pesticides, and in women who get so caught up in physically and emotionally feeding others that they offer themselves only scraps.

As a private chef, I have done a lot of medicinal cooking for women with breast cancer. So many of the women that I’ve worked with have found healing in changing their diets to more whole, real, organic food.

Q: How has our understanding of the relationship between diet and breast health evolved over the past several years?

A: There is much more information out there now! When I began cooking for people with breast cancer in the late 1980’s, certain healing diets were popular — macrobiotic diets, the Gershon Diet, and the like. I offered my clients delicious food for healing and many had the same epiphany: “Oh my gosh, I’m now eating and serving real food!” People thought I was radical back then, but it’s much more mainstream thinking now because the public is so much more educated.

The bottom line is that cooking from the heart makes the tastiest meals and eating is a pleasure. I choose to focus on eating local, seasonal, organic foods that are not just good for you and me, but also pleasurable, delicious and good for the planet.

Q: What are some foods that promote breast health?

A: I especially love wild and organically certified sea vegetables such as nori, dulse, arame, and kelp. They contain every mineral! I like to use them in Miso Soup with Ramen Noodles. It’s a delicious recipe that extracts heavy metals and toxins from the body, and gives you vitamins and minerals back.

Naturally fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha are great choices. They encourage healthy gut flora and strengthen the immune system. Whole gluten free grains such as quinoa, millet, teff, and amaranth are high fiber and lower in acid than grains with gluten like wheat. They provide B vitamins, which reduce stress.

Superfoods such as cacao, maca, coconut, hemp and goji berries are also good for the breasts and promote overall health.

Q: What are some foods that are detrimental to breast health?

A: Junk food! Stay away from GMO’s, white sugar, and artificial foods with preservatives. Eat the rainbow of organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Eating foods that are alkalizing will help the body establish and maintain balance and will reduce inflammation. Good news: so is a glass of organic wine once in a while!

Q: What are different foods for breast health at different ages and stages of life?

A: I am post-menopausal, and I went through menopause with no hot flashes or discomfort. I eat a lot of organic beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. I also eat a ton of organic vegetables and fruits in season and grass raised organic local eggs and cheeses. I’m careful to choose organic healthy fats such as avocados, hemp seeds, and extra virgin coconut and olive oils. Toxins tend to reside in fats, so it’s especially important to select them carefully. Plus, when we choose local organic foods such as eggs, cheeses, veggies and fruits, we reduce our carbon footprint, which is good for the whole planet.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: Ultimately, things catch up with us. Unexpressed emotions, bad food choices, everything. We can’t run away from ourselves. Before I shop or cook, I ask myself questions:

What do I want to eat?
Am I nourishing myself with food, or using it as a weapon against myself?
Where am I getting my food?
Are my food choices enhancing my energy, stamina, and pleasure?
Am I building community by connecting with farmers?

Your relationship with the land is deeply nourishing. Remember to get outside in nature to de-stress!

Photo by Tracey Eller

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