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Healthy Eating Tips for Cancer Patients and Survivors

For those undergoing treatment for breast cancer or have been treated in the past, eating well is particularly important.

If you're currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer or have been treated for breast cancer in the past, eating well is particularly important for you. When combined with exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, eating well is an excellent way to help your body stay strong and healthy.

Most experts will agree that what doctors know about a person’s diet being able to help keep cancer away is very limited.  Melanie Polk, RD, Director of Nutrition Education at the American Institute for Cancer Research was quoted on MedicineNet.com as saying:

"We know that a diet that's high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, and low in fat and high in fiber is cancer-protective.  But a lot of these factors have not been studied in detail with regard to cancer survivors. Still, there's every reason to believe that dietary factors that are cancer-protective to begin with would be protective as well for cancer survivors."

Clearly, research is always ongoing, however it must be accepted as fact that a good diet will help to improve overall health and protect against a number of diseases. 

What makes a “Healthy Diet”?  

Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Johns Hopkins Medicine  tells us “There are no food or dietary supplements that will act as “magic bullets” to prevent breast cancer from returning. National Cancer Institute guidelines for cancer prevention can be used to decrease the chance of a breast cancer recurrence.”   These guidelines include:

  • Increase intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Decrease fat intake to < 30 percent of calories
  • Minimize intake of cured, pickled and smoked foods
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Alcohol consumption should be done in moderation, if at all

We found this list on MedicineNet.com to share with you: 

  • Go for a Diet Rich in Plant Foods, Fish, and Lean Protein  Foods known to have cancer-prevention benefits
  • Whole wheat breads. Forget the anti-carb mantra: whole grains (such as wheat and brown rice) have many potent antioxidants, which research has linked to cancer prevention. In fact, one recent study found that antioxidants' cancer-fighting abilities may be equal to the punch packed by fruits and vegetables. So, make sure your bread is 100% whole wheat. Also try whole wheat pasta, and ask for the brown rice at your next Chinese meal.
  • Carrots, winter squash, pumpkins, apricots. Orange foods (no, not macaroni and cheese) are rich in carotenes, which have been linked to decreased risk of lung and oral cancers and may slow the progression of other cancers.
  • Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and other dark green vegetables. They also boast plenty of carotenes, along with fiber and folate. Two large studies suggest a relationship between increased folate intake and decreased breast cancer risk.
  • Garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, and other vegetables from the allium family. Studies in animals show that allium vegetable components can slow the progression of several cancers, including breast cancer.
  • Beans -- lentils, peas, kidney beans, navy beans, and so on. Beans are rich in fiber, and also in a certain kind of antioxidant that appears to slow tumor growth.

As a breast cancer survivor, you'll also want to make sure that your diet contains plenty of low-fat protein, such as cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), beans, nuts, and white meat chicken or turkey. Protein rebuilds muscle and tissue, something that's particularly important when your body has undergone the assault of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

Experts agree that there is no one magic food.  It is the cooperation of all of the elements in a varied and health diet which brings the most benefit from the foods.

Johns Hopkins Medicine explained that controversy exists on the role of dietary fat on the promotion of breast cancer. They pointed out that some animal studies and epidemiological data have suggested that the type of fat consumed may initiate the development of breast cancer.  Their recommendation:

  • Limit the intake of highly saturated foods such as beef, lamb, organ meats, cheeses, cream, butter, ice cream
  • Decrease food containing trans fatty acids, such as commercially prepared baked goods, crackers and margarine
  • Increase your intake of poultry, fish and vegetarian proteins (legumes and lentils). Increasing your intake of fish to 3 times per week will increase omega-3-polyunsaturated fat intake. Research has suggested that these fatty acids may inhibit the growth of breast tumors.

As in most cases, it is preferable to maintain a healthy body weight.  Obese women tend to have increased estrogen levels.  Studies have shown a correlation between body mass size and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Again, maintaining a healthy diet and a regular exercise regimen with a goal of weight reduction could be beneficial to a cancer patient.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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