(This column first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Produce Business magazine)
On Sunday, September 9, 2012, I participated in the annual Ride for the Roses cycle race (a fundraising event for cancer research), covering a distance of 75 miles in four hours. I was 54 years old, as fit as a fiddle and as energetic and healthy as anybody could be. Yet only two months later, on my 55th birthday, I sat in a surgeon’s consulting room and heard the dreadful words: “You have colon cancer, I have to operate urgently and you will undergo seven months of chemotherapy treatment afterwards.”
The world stopped, followed by a roller coaster of emotions. With three young children in the household, my wife and I had to dive headlong into this dreaded unknown territory. We had to face questions such as: How do we tell the children? and What if I do not survive? It was a mix of disbelief, fear and grief. Yet somehow, having my own mortality thrust right into my face spurred me into action. Instead of trying to answer these unanswerable questions, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to get through this nightmare?’ My oncologist/surgeon advised me to focus on getting my body as strong as possible for surgery.
Fortunately, during the three weeks preceding surgery I came into contact with a naturopath, who also graduated as a doctor in ‘normal’ medicine. Our discussions opened a new world to me, as he immersed me in the amazing world of nutrition as a weapon against diseases.
The more I researched, the more I realized how little was being done to promote nutrition as a natural weapon against ‘modern’ diseases, even in the face of years of evidence based on academic studies that were being performed all over the world. Faced with cancer, at the time my gut feelings told me I needed to take matters in my own hands and focus on three primary issues. The first one was that I needed to feed my body with healthy stuff that might combat cancer cells and ‘power up’ my immune system. Second, I had to ensure that no day would pass without doing some form of exercise. Third, I had to keep my positive nature intact. The rest was up to the surgeons, chemotherapy and God.
I embarked on a daily ritual of stuffing my body with a vegetable-based juice regime. The greener the better: juices made from kale, avocado, cucumber and zucchini laced with soursop and raw turmeric became my daily companions. I read up on the nutritional factors of all fruit and vegetables known to man, turning my kitchen into an experimental juice factory. I embarked on an exercise plan that saw me cover 784 miles, the same digits as the number of chemotherapy pills that I had to swallow. From January 2013 to August 2013, my chemotherapy treatment continued. One day of intravenous chemotherapy, followed by two weeks of pills and then one week of rest. In the background, my fresh produce diet was running at full speed. My oncologist was amazed: All through chemotherapy my blood cell counts remained remarkably strong.
Fast forward to January 21, 2019. After having been under the close scrutiny of my oncologist for six years, I received the magical NED (no evidence of disease) confirmation. At 61 years of age, I am again regularly hitting the 75-mile mark on my racing bicycle. I have recently hiked the length of the Netherlands, a total of 310 miles. I am fit and strong. I am one of the lucky ones.
So what does this column have to do with fresh produce? During the past two years, there has been a dramatic upsurge in press releases on clinical studies that prove healthy eating and a positive lifestyle can decrease the chances of falling prey to diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Delegates at a recent diabetes conference in South Africa included doctors and scientists from research institutions such as Harvard and Tufts Universities in America, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Sydney University in Australia. Speakers brought clear evidence that a plant-based diet can reverse Type 2 diabetes, yet painted a grim picture of the powerful position of the pharmaceutical companies, saying that ‘conventional medicine keeps diabetic patients sick, fat and drug-dependent.’
In 2018, the World Cancer Research Fund presented a report titled Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. The report covered more than 10 years of research, analysis of 51 million people, and included scientific publications on 17 types of cancer. The scientific evidence was clear: healthy food and a healthy lifestyle reduce the risk of cancer. The European Union’s Science Hub says that ‘according to major food and health-related organizations the intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduction in the risk of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD), Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and some types of cancer.’
Make no mistake, I am not advocating an either/or approach. Of course, modern medicines have a major role to play in human health. But with all this evidence and support for fresh produce as an important component in combating various diseases, why is it not included in the standard protocols and treatment plans of health insurance companies and hospitals? I strongly believe that the produce industry all over the world should stand united and launch a campaign that says ‘FIGHT BACK WITH FRESH!’
Jim Prevor, aka the Perishable Pundit. has often said that fresh produce is on the side of the angels. To which I say: Amen.
Nic Jooste is the director of marketing and CSR at Cool Fresh International, a Rotterdam-based global marketing organization for fresh produce.