Restore Physical Well-Being Nutrition
It's important for you to take very good care of yourself before, during, and after breast cancer treatment. Taking care of yourself includes eating well and staying as active as you can.
Sometimes, especially during or soon after treatment, you may not feel like eating. You may be uncomfortable or tired. You may find that foods don't taste as good as they used to. In spite of this, following a healthy diet is important for everyone, breast cancer survivor or not. But it is especially vital for breast cancer survivors both during and after treatment. A healthy diet should include plenty of protein because it is an excellent source of energy, boosts the immune system and promotes muscle growth and recovery.
A plant-based diet that is loaded with protein -- plenty of colorful vegetables and whole grains -- is a very healthy option for breast cancer survivors. The Cancer Project, an organization that encourages cancer prevention and survival through nutrition education and research, has research-based evidence that shows that a plant-based diet composed of legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables can help prevent cancer and cancer recurrence.
Jennifer Reilly, R.D., senior nutritionist with The Cancer Project, says that, “Women coping with breast cancer deserve to know that plant-based diets and regular exercise can spell the difference between life and death. In the battle against breast cancer, fruits, vegetables and other low-fat vegetarian foods may be our most powerful weapons. Doctors must let women know that diet changes and exercise can help them beat this terrible disease.”
The Cancer Project’s goal is to improve a woman’s chances of survival after she has been diagnosed by providing comprehensive information about the role of dietary factors in keeping survivors healthy. To achieve this goal, The Cancer Project has developed what it calls the “New Four Food Groups,” which are:
- Vegetables: 3 or more servings a day
Vegetables are packed with nutrients; they provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fiber and other nutrients. Dark-green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chicory or bok choy are especially good sources of these important nutrients. Dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin provide extra beta-carotene. Include generous portions of a variety of vegetables in your diet.
- Whole Grains: 5 or more servings a day
This group includes bread, rice, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, bulgur, buckwheat groats, and tortillas. Build each of your meals around a hearty grain dish. Grains are rich in fiber and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, B vitamins and zinc.
- Fruit: 3 or more servings a day
Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Be sure to include at least 1 serving each day of fruits that are high in vitamin C -- citrus fruits, melons and strawberries all are good choices. Choose whole fruit over fruit juices, which do not contain much fiber.
To help you better understand how these four food groups aid in your quest for cancer prevention and survival, The Cancer Project has developed the Healthy Eating for Life - Food Choices for Cancer Prevention and Survivalguidebook. In addition, its Nutrition Rainbow is a great quick-reference tool for you to create a diet full of cancer-fighting nutrients and immune-boosting power.
- Legumes: 2 or more servings a day
Legumes -- another name for beans, peas and lentils -- are all good sources of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, soymilk, tempeh, and texturized vegetable protein.
To help develop your cancer prevention and survival diet, search the Find Healthy Recipes and Meal Planner.
Following a healthy, plant-based diet ensures that your body gets the nutrients it needs from the foods that provide proper nourishment and enhance your overall health and well-being. Beware, though, of processed foods -- their nutritional value is virtually depleted by the time they hit the store shelves.
Many breast cancer survivors incorporate nutritional supplements into their daily routine, but don’t rely on them solely to make up for what you may lack from food. Vitamin supplements do not provide calories, which are essential for energy production. So vitamins cannot substitute for adequate food consumption.
However, there are some key supplements considered important to include in your daily regimen. They are:
Your nutrition plays a critical role in helping you reenergize after breast cancer treatment. Fatigue and other lingering effects are more challenging to overcome if you are not eating enough or not eating the right foods.
- Multivitamins: Multivitamins are great way to supplement the nutrients that the body is lacking, all in one convenient dose.
- Vitamin D: This encourages calcium absorption to help build stronger bones. Additionally, vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to health challenges ranging from osteoporosis to cancer.
- Fish Oil/Omega 3: These reduce inflammation and protect the heart from cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. Fish has also been proven to reduce the likelihood of breast, colon and prostate cancers -- and even Alzheimer’s disease.
- Resveratrol: Resveratrol is an antioxidant that has been proven to reduce oxidative stress and minimize the risk of a variety of health challenges, including coronary heart disease and many forms of cancer.
You will feel better and have more energy during -- and especially after -- breast cancer treatment if you maintain good eating habits. Consider some of these strategies to improve your nutritional intake:
Following the above strategies and The Cancer Project’s philosophy on the New Four Food Groups can definitely help you restore your energy and enhance your physical well-being. Do this, and you will be fit for life!
- Meet your basic calorie needs. The estimated calorie needs for someone with cancer is 15 calories per pound of weight if your weight has been stable. Add 500 calories a day if you have lost weight.
- Get plenty of protein. Protein rebuilds and repairs damaged (and normally aging) body tissue. The estimated protein needs are 0.5 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Example: A 150-pound person needs 75 to 90 grams of protein a day.
- Drink plenty of water. A minimum of 8 cups of water a day will prevent dehydration. (That's 64 ounces, two quarts or one half-gallon).
- Make sure you are getting enough vitamins. Take a vitamin supplement if you are not sure you are getting enough nutrients.
- Make an appointment with a dietitian/nutritionist. A dietitian can suggest ways to maximize calories and include proteins in smaller amounts of food (such as powdered milk, instant breakfast drinks and other commercial supplements or food additives).
The following resources provide more detailed information to help you learn more about how to eat for cancer prevention and survival:
The Cancer Project's Healthy Eating for Life - Food Choices for Cancer Prevention and Survival Guidebook
The Cancer Project's Food for Life Nutrition and Cooking Classes for Cancer Prevention and Survival
The Cancer Project's The Cancer Survivor’s Guide: Foods that Help You Fight Back!
New Study Finds Plant-Based Diets Play Critical Role in Breast Cancer Survival:
Experts with the Cancer Project Call on Doctors to Help Women Adopt Vegetarian Diets and Healthy Exercise Habits
Find Healthy Recipes and Meal Planner
The Role Good Nutrition Plays in Breast Cancer Patients by Protica Research
Eating for wellness
Eating to Thrive in Breast Cancer Treatment and Beyond
Build a Breast Cancer-Fighting Menu
For more information on nutrition, go to Resources. You can share your knowledge and experience with other survivors at Survivor Tips or start a discussion in our Partner Forum.