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Sanae Suzuki’s Miraculous Plant Based Healing

Sanae Suzuki came to Southern California from Nagoya-shi, Aichi, Japan in 1973. Back then she had no idea that she would become an inspiration for healthy living for thousands of people. Twenty years after her move, she was still living in Los Angeles when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What predominately healed her was an old world Asian diet that led to her teaching others about foods that originally came from her home country. It took three years, but the ovarian cancer was gone for good. Then in 2001, Sanae was involved in a horrific car accident. The doctors said she would never walk again. She was bedridden for an entire year, then in a wheelchair for four years, but all the while she used her skills with diet and natural remedies, that got her up and walking, doing yoga and hiking with her husband and their family of dogs again. Over the years, Sanae has taught cooking, hosted special dinners and been a partner in a plant-based restaurant.

We asked Sanae a few questions about her journey with food:

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What has your journey with food been like? (Please describe how it was before, during and after healing yourself)

Sanae Suzuki: I have always loved to eat — as much as I can remember, even when I was a child, like as early as 3 years old. One of my first memories of food, I remember in the hot summer days when Japan is very humid, I really wanted to eat a slice of watermelon from the street vendor’s glass iced box. I recall helping with my Mom’s work at the Pachinko shop to pick pachinko balls from the floor and in return I got a mouthful of cold watermelon as a reward — it was something I will never forget in my mind.

Sanae Suzuki
Eric Lechasseur

My diet back then may not have been filled with nutritiously healthy food, but I was definitely a “foodie”. I ate too much and as a teenager I ate too much of the wrong foods. I loved sugary soft drinks and got hooked on coca cola and ended up pouring it into my white rice when other family members were pouring miso soup into the rice. I ended up gaining so much weight as a Japanese girl — so much that I was wearing Japanese women’s size extra large, which is an American women’s Large size. They used to call me Betty Boop!

When I came to the U.S. in 1979, I ate university cafeteria food. It was delicious but super high in cholesterol. It was full of fat and sugar. [I also had] soft drinks, with the “as much as you could eat” policy, so very quickly I increased my size up to American women’s Extra Large size which has no Japanese equivalent size for women. I had very dry hair and split ends, as well as acne pimples all over my face and I was wearing so much make up to hide it.

As I started to swim and exercise at the university, my face cleared up, but I did not lose much weight. I started to eat more vegetables though, and also to cook at home in my apartment, which changed things a lot. I noticed I lost the weight naturally and my mind got much clearer. I was also feeling much more positive. This was the gateway for me into learning how to heal myself through food.

In my 3rd year at the university, I got into a relationship with an American guy and my life turned to a pattern of drinking alcohol instead of soft drinks, so I depleted my health. In 1989, I had a liver related condition called mononucleosis for 3 months. This was my first serious experience of losing my health and I had the realization for the first time of how invaluable health is. I soon forgot though. When I recovered, I continued to live the unhealthy way. 

In 1993, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Later I realized that I was actually lucky at that time not to have medical insurance. The doctor did not want to discuss treatment here in the U.S. and told me to go back to Japan. I lost my father a few years before from liver cancer and my family were grieving too much to help, I decided to stay here. However, I was then blessed to receive a recommendation to see a macrobiotic food counselor. This was a positive turning point for my health in every way. I also had the help of my best friend at the time, Eric, a classically trained chef (who is my current husband). He helped me as I detoxed from the unhealthy food and lifestyle, and supported me as I learned a new way of cooking and living. This, combined with alternative oriental medicine, helped to heal me. Changing diets was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I had to deal with the fact that I ate junk food when I was happy, sad, or in between, so that emotional attachment to food, like an addiction, was very strong. Thanks to the AA program, I had kicked the alcohol habit in 1985, so I used same method for food — one day at a time.

It took 3 years for me to completely heal from ovarian cancer but 3 years compared to the rest of my life is so much shorter! I truly started to feel what happiness is and am able to love my life without making so much effort. I deeply appreciate that my healing process brought me so much more than just recovering from ovarian cancer — it's the invaluable life lesson to continuously live a health and happy life.

Sanae Suzuki
Sanae Suzuki


What did you eat growing up in Japan compared to what you eat now in Santa Monica? What's different? What is the same? 

SS: I ate more fish growing up in Japan. I also ate white rice, seaweed and eggs almost everyday there. Now I eat a whole grain diet — including brown rice, quinoa, barely, millet, etc. No eggs. I don't eat fish unless by dietary necessity when I need it. There were so many processed foods which were popular when I was growing up in Japan, so it was trendy to use packaged foods like instant miso soup, cup of ramen noodles and pre-packaged curry stew. But I do not use processed or packaged food anymore here in the U.S. even if it’s popular. I do use some packaged food when I am traveling, but I make sure there is no preservatives and no sugar additives — so reading the ingredient labels is incredibly important. 

What is the same as when I was in Japan … is eating homemade food with love in the traditional way of Japanese style food.


What kind of cancer did you have and how did you heal it? Was it all dietary?

SS: Ovarian cancer. No it was not only dietary. I healed mostly through my dietary change to macrobiotics (balanced whole foods) and plant-based food, of course, but also I used alternative oriental medicine, Bach flower remedy, bodywork (shiatsu), yoga, meditation and communication.

I did try out hormone therapy for 6 months but there were too many side effects so I had to stop.


What are your favorite things to eat and how have they changed over the years?

SS: I like to eat seasonal food and fresh picked local produce. As I am getting older it has changed as I am learning my own body’s health season, which means if I am not feeling well and the weather is warm outside, I may feel colder than usual so I need to eat warming foods which are good for colder seasons — like warm stew or slow longer cooking soup. Conversely, I may feel warm when it is a cooler day out side so I might eat pressed cucumber salad, which has a cooling effect. It means I pay attention to the season of my own body not just the outside weather season. I also monitor my emotional season. Am I feeling like summer, active and cheerful, or like winter, quiet and low energy? In this way, you see the difference and then you can eat different foods for your emotional moods.

Where do you buy Japanese ingredients or things you need in L.A.? Is it easy for you or are there challenges?

SS: When I first moved to the U.S. in the late 70s to 80s it was not easy to find Japanese ingredients, but now there are many Japanese grocery stores in the West side of L.A. (Nijya, Marakai and Mistuwa).

Also, many Japanese products are available in farmers' markets, the Santa Monica Co-op, Whole Foods Markets and even Ralphs.

Sanae Suzuki
Eric Lechasseur


Do you have a favorite food discovery that you made in the U.S.?

SS: I love to create and discover traditional Japanese / American fusions of food (Japanese / Western food combinations). I know American people love peanut butter sandwiches. I really did not like them much because eating peanut butter gave me acne and pimples on my face, so I came up with Natto Butter. Natto is fermented soybeans that have been recognized as one of Japan’s most unique traditional health foods. It is highly nutritious, rich in protein, and one of the best kinds of good bacteria foods for your stomach and intestine. Natto has many additional benefits.


Has anything food wise changed for you since your car accident? 

SS: Since the car accident my mobility has changed, becoming very limited. I stayed home a lot, doing writing, photography, art, teaching and counseling etc. in my home studio. I was completely home based and not able to drive in L.A. traffic anymore, so in the beginning, I ate less protein and more easily digestible food, for example softer well cooked whole grains and beans. As my mobility came back and I started to teach yoga, I added more protein, which helped my body with more activity.


How do you typically shop for food? Daily? Weekly? Do you plan menus for your week or do you make each meal as you go?

SS: My husband, Eric Lechasseur, cooks for a private clients everyday, so I ask him to pick up something if I need it on a daily basis, but usually we go to once a week to the farmers' market, the Co-op or the Japanese market.

I do make a weekly menu, but more importantly I write a daily food journal and review it each week in case my condition changes due to what I ate.


Do you have a favorite recipe from Japan? Do you teach it? Would you care to share?

SS: Yes. This is a dish combination of Japanese traditional food created in a western style way with mixture of a French name twist to make it more exotic. Everyone loves this way of making natto, even people who did not like natto before. You must try it! (If you want to make Natto Butter, you mash natto to make butter before mixing in vegetables and serve on a slice of sourdough bread)

​Natto Canapé, Sanae Suzuki
Natto CanapéSanae Suzuki

​Natto Canapé 
Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

1 sundried tomato (0.5 oz)
2 leaves basil (5 leaves)
3 oz natto (organic, non-GMO, homemade is better if you can find it at stores)
tamari — which is soy sauce with no wheat or shoyu-soy sauce (optional)
olive oil (optional)
rice crackers
sprouts

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Soak sundried tomato to be soft, drain the water and slice very thin.
2. Chop basil leaves.
3. Mix sliced sundried tomato and chopped basil into natto in a bowl.
4. Add tamari or shoyu and/or olive oil.
5. Mix and place on rice crackers.
6. Add sprout on the top as garnish/decoration.


​Sanae’s website is sanaesuzuki.com

Top image: Jun Seita/Flickr/Creative Commons License