Can We Fight Cancer with Food? Tips from Lori Bumbaco, Plant-Based Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist


Can we fight cancer with food?

Some of you are saying “Duh”.

And some of you aren’t so sure.

The debate over the relationship between diet and cancer-prevention has been going on for decades.  On one hand, you have doctors and scientists pointing to countless studies showing the correlation between poor nutrition and cancer cell growth.  On the other hand, you have huge Dairy and Meat industries, whose reach spans from the school lunch program to the a pink-lid breast cancer campaign.

In between you have plant-based advocates encouraging you to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils.

“Food can be an opportunity for powerful medicine”

— Lori Bumbaco

Lori Bumbaco, RDN, CSO, LDN at Cancer Wellness Center



Plant-Based Advocate, Lori Bumbaco, RDN, CSO, LDN lives the mantra that food can be used as medicine.   She is a Dietitian-Nutritionist at the Cancer Wellness Center and Kellogg Cancer Center.  Even with over 13 years experience in Oncology Nutrition she is still “humbled every day with my experiences”.

What advice can she give to those of us trying to incorporate more of a Plant-Based diet?

Tip 1:  Emphasize What you CAN Eat

So often, we read about diets that restrict us.  Some of them cut calories or limit us to a certain number of points.  Some of them eliminate entire food groups, casting a dark cloud over things as simple as quinoa or as complicated as sugar (do you mean white sugar, brown sugar, wild-harvested organic coconut sugar, or apple fructose sugar?)

Rather than becoming a “food police”, Lori encourages you to focus more on what you CAN eat.  Eating a plant-based diet means you CAN eat a huge variety of colorful fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, rices, beans, potatoes, nuts, seeds …well, you get the idea.  Wherever your current diet is, focus on adding MORE of these healthy plant-based foods.

Rather than focus on what you can’t eat, focus on all of the things you CAN eat, like this rainbow of colorful peppers

A beautiful rainbow of colorful peppers helps you focus on all of the healthy options you have

Tip 2: Savor the Farm

Savor all of the delicious flavors of local, seasonal farms to enjoy fresh, healthy food

“My palate has grown immensely and I find food exciting for the first time in my life.  I have plants to thank for that”

Lori grew up in New Jersey, where she could fondly recall her family’s 8×10 backyard garden.  Her dad would bite into juicy, ripe tomatoes like many of us would bite into an apple.  The summer brought a harvest of fresh cucumbers and green beans, healthy vegetables that would fill their dinner plates.

Today, she participates in a CSA that delivers a fun variety of farm-fresh vegetables every week.  Going to a farmer’s market is a stunning reminder at the endless variety in the plant-based rainbow.  Her childhood foundation of simple green beans has blossomed today into a diet that includes  beet green smoothies, roasted broccoflower, and Japanese salad turnips.  As she says, “my palate has grown immensely and I find food exciting for the first time in my life.  I have plants to thank for that”

Tip 3: Go Easy on Yourself…This is a Journey

Many of us have fond memories of foods like BLT’s, and it can be hard to let go of those emotion connections. But Go Easy on Yourself…this is a journey

Many of us have fond memories of foods like BLT’s, and it can be hard to let go of those emotion connections.  But Go Easy on Yourself…this is a journey

Lori’s favorite meal growing up?  A BLT.  That’s right BACON, lettuce, and tomato.

Many of her childhood snacks?  The typical processed, packaged that filled many of our lunch boxes and sports bags.

And while her family had that little garden in the backyard, she had her fair share of Shake-and-Bake, Chef Boy-r-Dee, and Pop Tarts.

If we’re honest, many of us will share that same soft spot for these beloved foods.  It can be challenging to let go of the emotion connections we have.  These types of foods bring us comfort steeped in family memories and childhood rituals.  Change is both challenging and uncomfortable.  When we fall into our old eating habits, it doesn’t serve us to beat ourselves over it.  Rather, let’s be proud of the changes we HAVE made.  Let’s re-focus our goals and get back on track.


Tip 4:  Planning is Key

Use leaves of Collard Greens to make “wrap its” filled with healthy beans, peppers, avocado, or hummus

It can be challenging to find delicious plant-based meals, particularly in the meat-loving Midwest.  To prevent the last-minute search for healthy food, Lori recommends planning some healthy options.  Some tricks she uses for her own family that you can also practice:

  • Prep “nibbles”: Crudité from the farm share or what looks good at the market, prepped and ready to enjoy all week
  • Theme Nights:  Make “stuffed boats” using potatoes or winter squash, or “wrap its” using Bibb lettuce.  The themes keep the meal fun, and they’re an opportunity to swap in a plant based meal.

Free Cooking Class:

The Dietitian & The Chef

On Thursday, July 27th, I’ll be teaming up with Lori to offer a free cooking class at the Cancer Wellness Center.  We’re tackling Plant-Based 101.

Lori will tackle how to transition towards a cancer-preventative plant-based diet.

I’ll be tackling Stuffed Potatoes, Veggie Burgers, and a 5 Minute Asian Noodle Bowl.

This class is now over.  Please SUBSCRIBE to the Plants-Rule newsletter to learn about future events.

More Reading:

The Link Between Nutrition and Cancer Is Not New, Just Ignored, By T. Colin Campbell, PhD

For more reading on this topic, I recommend this article by Dr. T. Colin Campbell.  He worked with a group of scientists who released a study in 1982 showing a definitive link between nutrition and cancer.  Two weeks later, the Dairy and Cattle industries released their own “study” (about 1/5 the size and full of more theories than statistics).  They were so aggressive that they delivered a copy to each member of Congress, hoping to protect the prized milk subsidy and meat subsidy programs part of the USDA.


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