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My First Food Lesson with Dr. Zembroski

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Joan Lunden

Breast Cancer /


Well, I have read my nutritionist Dr. Robert Zembroski’s book Rebuild and now that I am on a “NO BREAD, NO DAIRY & NO SUGAR” eating plan during my chemotherapy treatments I must admit my first reaction was “So then what is there left to eat?”  But when your life may very well depend on what you eat, then all of a sudden this eating plan seems much more doable.

This eating plan doesn’t scare me, but it better scare the hell out of my cancer!

So lets start by defining what the foods are that I am supposed to avoid.  Here is the official list:


DAIRY:   Milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, etc. It doesn’t matter if the milk is from cows, goats, or sheep. Dairy products are inflammatory, and most contain traces of hormones and antibiotics. Even organic milk products may contain somatic cells—white blood cells that fight infection in the cows’ udders and get passed on to the consumer. Instead, use rice milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. Coconut-milk yogurt and ice cream are becoming widely available.

SUGAR:  Sugar goes by many different names. Read labels, and avoid foods containing the following:  barley malt, blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn sweeteners, corn syrup, date sugar, dextrin, dextrose, d-mannose, evaporated cane juice, fruit-juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup, table sugar, turbinado sugar.

note:   Fructose, naturally occurring in fruit or added in small quantities to foods, is acceptable.

GRAINS:  Most grains contain gluten, gliaden or lectins, and are major sources of inflammation. Even whole grains contain indigestible protein, which can be detrimental for those with gluten or gliaden sensitivities. The only grains acceptable to rebuild are brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, wild rice, and black rice. 

Avoid Grain-fed, feedlot animals (beef, poultry, eggs) –look for GRASS FED!

Avoid Farm-raised fish, which may contain petroleum dyes used for coloring

Avoid Cured meats (deli, sausages, bacon), especially those containing nitrates

note:  Packaged turkey bacon or chicken/turkey sausage should be organic and natural with no preservatives or sugar.

NO Margarine and other butter substitutes

NO Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils

NO Aerosol cooking sprays, such as PAM

NO Trans-fats (synthetic fats found in many processed foods)

NO Processed peanut butter — most contain hydrogenated oil, sugar and preservatives

NO Canned foods, unless both unsweetened and organic*

NO Soda and energy drinks, including “diet” versions.

NO Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharine, sucralose, and aspartame

NO Artificial flavors, food dyes and coloring

note:   Try to eat whole-food sources and/or organic packaged foods with few natural ingredients.

Key Points to Remember: Please note these are specific to my cancer treatment

  1. Eat nutrient-dense low-calorie foods during the day.
    1. 3 meals a day that consists of protein, greens, and rainbow colored vegetables.  (Ex: 3-4 oz of protein is a serving.  ½ cup of sweet potato is a serving.
    2. 2-3 snacks or "small meals" in between the bigger meals. Remember to eat for the nutrients not the calories. The snacks should also be nutrient dense. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots with hummus, or celery and red bell pepper with hummus are examples.
    3. Plant-based foods (PBF) provide the nutrients that act as signals to impair cancer cell growth and proliferation. (PBF) make the internal environment of the body unfavorable for cancer cells to survive. 
  2. Don't eat foods that cause big fluctuations in your insulin…more importantly at night. Eating simple refined-carbs and simple sugars will drive insulin (There is a list of the foods that drive insulin or more information in Rebuild). Note: Both sugar and insulin drive the growth and proliferation of cancer cells.
  3. When grilling or frying, don't burn foods or blacken meats or veggies. Check out the "red cabbage, orange and onions" recipe in Rebuild for a delicious "relish" to put over meats that neutralize compounds produced by heated meats. (You love adding great flavored sauces, and you will like this one and it is a top winner because it’s on the Dark Purple Super Food list).   When grilling, make sure you cook on a low-medium heat while frequently flipping the meat so you don't burn the protein.
    1. Make sure you get protein sources from other sources including: eggs, wild caught fish (salmon, flounder, grey sole, trout etc.). Definitely include plant-based proteins as well. Because plant protein don't compare in their protein content, you have to create a "complete protein". This is done with brown rice, or black rice and beans. So, eat a variety or healthful protein sources from animals and plants.
  4. By eating nutrient-dense foods and exercising to stay fit and strong, you will change your body composition. Our goal is to reduce body fat and maintain or increase lean muscle. Body fat is inflammatory. Inflammation is the process of cell communication where white blood cells and fat cells spit out compounds that cause cell growth and proliferation. Nutrient-dense foods and HIIT are the best non-drug chemotherapy.
  5. Support your detoxification with cysteine-rich foods, onions, chives, scallions, cruciferous veggies, eggs, small amounts of avocado (remember 1/8 of an avocado is a serving – don’t get carried away). Green tea is a great detoxifying tea and it helps burn body fat for energy. Most experts advise drinking three cups a day.  Nutrients from plant-based foods are all good detoxifiers.
  6. Try and wind down at night to drop your cortisol levels and get a good night sleep. Sleep is important because it prevents inflammation, regulates hormones, and improves the immune system. We can discuss a calcium + magnesium supplement to help with sleep. Calcium and magnesium act as mild sedatives.


Information on what foods to avoid and more can be found in Dr. Zembroski’s book Rebuild! 

About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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