Florida Foodie: Oncologist shares how a plant-based diet can help cancer patients

Dr. Amber Orman is a radiation oncologist with AdventHealth

Dr. Amber Orman likes to practice what she calls “true healthcare.”

“We are treating, preventing and reversing chronic disease with the way that you’re living rather than relying wholly on pills and procedures and tests and things like this,” Orman said.

She is a radiation oncologist and also a practitioner of lifestyle medicine “which is using food and movement, the way that you feel stress the way that you sleep, your relationships and your use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, to really change your life in a positive way,” according to Orman.

Orman takes that practice into the HEAL Program at AdventHealth. HEAL stands for Healthy Eating Active Lifestyle. Orman started the program with Dr. Nathalie McKenzie, a gynecologic oncologist.


“This has been something that has been percolating for me for quite a few years and before I joined Advent, I was actually going to launch a similar program at Moffitt Cancer Center where I came from,” Orman said. “My life took a turn and I married somebody who happened to live in Orlando and then I found AdventHealth.”

The HEAL program shows cancer patients ways they can change their lifestyles to improve their overall health and help them recover from their diagnosis.

Part of the core of the HEAL program is encouraging patients to consume a diet that is at least majority plant-based.

“When you look at all of the data together, a plant-based diet, a plant predominant diet — that doesn’t have to be 100% vegan, or whatever term you want to use — but simply a diet that is mostly plants the healthiest way to eat. I can say that with complete confidence,” Orman said.

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Part of the reason for encouraging a plant dominant diet is because plants provide something that animal products cannot, fiber.

“Fiber is only in plants,” she said. “So when we’re eating fiber, that is what our gut microbiome needs to be happy.”

Orman explained that your gut microbiome is “a population of bacteria in your gut, that is absolutely central to many processes in your body.”

“So when this population of organisms in your gut is happy because they’ve been eating a lot of fiber, the global level of inflammation in your body is lower, and your immune system is functioning in a better way,” the doctor said. “When our immune system is functioning in a better way, it can pick off little cancer cells that are floating around in our body from time to time — because that is the case, we always have a cancer cell or two roaming around that our body is designed to take those out so that it doesn’t land in breast tissue or the pancreas and grow to become a tumor that we find and diagnose and treat.”

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In addition to fiber, plants also provide phytonutrients.

“Phytonutrients, again, are substances only in plants,” Orman said. “One subset of a phytonutrient is an antioxidant. And they’re anti-inflammatory — they’re just very good for our body. They run around kind of repairing damage and preventing damage.”

In the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Orman shares more about HEAL and the improvements she has seen in her patients as a result of the program. She also shares more about the benefits of a plant-dominant diet for overall health and what changes people can make to begin improving their nutrition.

Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”

Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.