Eating healthily is important for everyone, but when you have had breast cancer you may become even more aware of what you eat and drink. A balanced diet has been shown to have a range of health benefits.
However, it is important not to feel guilty if you do not stick to a healthy diet all the time, especially while you are coping with the other physical and emotional effects of breast cancer and its treatment.
Dr Jennifer Griggs, breast medical oncologist, says it is important to eat a healthy diet during and after treatment. General recommendations are to eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber. “Persons should maintain a colorful diet. The micronutrients that you need tend to be found in foods that are colourful, especially preserved vegetables like kale, cabbage, and broccoli regardless of whether or not you have breast cancer,” Griggs said.
During chemotherapy Griggs said your taste buds may become interested in foods that you may not have liked before, and your favorite food may not actually taste good. “Even plain water can taste funny, a little metallic. The way to help with that is to add citrus to your water, a bit of lemon, orange or lime. Try to avoid a lot of juices because they have a lot of calories in them.”
People, she said, normally associate having cancer with weight loss during treatment. However, Griggs said this is not normally the case. “People actually gain weight probably because they are less active, and do a lot more comfort eating. Unless you have a history of a eating disorder, watch your weight quite closely. As well as to see a registered dietician to help maintain a healthy weight during treatment,” she said.
During treatment, Griggs said you should avoid supplements and antioxidants. “Avoid them as chemotherapy works by oxidation. You are going to decrease the effects of chemotherapy. One exception would be vitamin D. It is important to note that no diet or supplement can treat or cure cancer. Talk to your doctor about vitamins and supplements that you have been on before and whether or not they are advisable during treatment,” she said.
Eating a nutritious diet when you have breast cancer has many health benefits. Not only can it make you feel better faster, but it can boost your immune system and keep you strong. If you are considering trying a new diet or are having trouble sticking to a healthy eating plan, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
The following foods are based on general recommendations to maintain overall health while living with breast cancer:
• Whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, protein sources like chicken and turkey, fatty fish like trout or salmon, and plant-based proteins sources like lentils and nuts
• Foods high in healthy fats and protein. If you need to maintain or gain weight, incorporate sources of healthy fat like nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil as well as protein sources like eggs, chicken, lentils, and fish. Protein-rich foods are especially important for maintaining muscle mass.
• Blended liquids such as milkshakes, smoothies, juices, or soups for those times when you don’t feel like eating solid foods
• High fiber foods like whole grains, flax seeds, legumes, vegetables and fruits to treat constipation