Eating away cancer

A CHILL wind blew through Jane Plant's London in the autumn of 1987. The geochemist and mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her son was :ix and her daughter was 13, just starting to develop breasts herself.
After five successive bouts of the cancer, Professor Plant was given three months to live. A large secondary cancer the size of a }oiled egg was sticking out of her neck.

"My initial reaction was total despair," ;he says. "It was only when I found the new diet I had developed was working that I found I had the spirit to fight."  And so, 14 years later, Plant is as busy as ever as chief scientist at the British Geological Survey. She has had no trace of cancer for the past eight years and her general health is good.

Such a recovery for someone with a metastasised cancer - spread to the bones - seems a little too good to be true. Plant does not eschew conventional treatment; indeed, she puts chemotherapy down as one half of the formula that saved her life.

The other half was a simple change to her diet. Taking a lead from many Asian countries, where cancer rates are generally lower than in the West, she took a look at her daily eating regime.  Her diet had been good in most respects, she says - except for the amount of dairy produce in it. "I (was having) an organic :.) fat yoghurt almost every day and a lot u f skimmed milk in my tea," she says.

Hardly an indulgent lifestyle, then. But Plant became interested in various controversial dietary studies - heavily disputed, yet which seemed to indicate that consuming dairy products increased the cancer risk; not only of breast cancer, but lung cancer as well, and, in men, prostate and testicular cancer.
So Plant changed her diet. And lived.

Now she is even more strident in her rampage against milk, particularly in respect to hormones and growth factors it contains.  With every new cancer-fighting trend comes a book. From Plant we now have her second, The Plant Program, co-authored with her friend Gill Tidey and replete with recipes, as a follow-up to the first book, Your Life in Your Hands.

When she had active cancer, Plant avoided animal products. Now she is on the preventive phase of The Plant Program.  It's a busy career woman's diet that goes a little like this: on weekdays a dose of brewer's yeast and kelp tablets.

Then an organic boiled egg with wholemeal bread and grilled tomatoes and fruit. At the weekend a (milk-free) omelette.  Lunch is generally a baked potato filled with humus, and dinner red pepper soup, followed by Asian salad, chicken and tomato curry, and finished off with a sorbet.

But not everyone is convinced. Milk producers dispute the veracity of the cancerous claims around milk. Many
dieticians decry the lack of calcium without milk, leading to an osteoporosis risk.

Plant is unmoved. She is not convinced of the calcium and osteoporosis link, for a start. Americans and Scandinavians, she claims, consume the highest amounts of dairy produce in the world, but have the highest bone fracture rates.

Yet Singapore consumes considerably less calcium, but has a much lower bone fracture rate. But, just to appease those dieticians who do see a preventive role for calcium against osteoporosis - for they are certainly the majority- Plant says her program provides calcium from vegetables, "the same source (from which) cows and hippopotami obtain theirs". the question remains, though: is it enough?

Plant professes to be heart healthy and cancer free. And who's to argue with that?  So if she had to pick the best Asian menu for avoiding cancer, what would it he?

"Thai," she say s. But as oriental countries become Westernised and follow our diet, their rates of breast cancer increases."

The Plant Program, Reci pes for FightingBreast Cancer - Healthier Li ving for Everyone is published In, Penguin (it S30.