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Published on October 03, 2019

Breast Cancer: Foods for Prevention, Treatment and Recovery

Prevention

No one food or diet can prevent or cause breast cancer, but your dietary choices can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Foods high in fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients are the most beneficial, said Kali Williams, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with Wayne UNC Health Care Center for Nutrition and Diabetes Health. But it’s also important to include a variety of foods in your diet and build a healthy plate.

Williams suggests the following food choices to help support breast cancer prevention:

  • Plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and soy

    • Examples: spinach, blueberries, pomegranates, peaches, broccoli, mushrooms, edamame and tofu
  • Eat these foods on their own or combine them in casseroles, sauces and smoothies
  • High fiber foods, including whole grains, beans and lentils, fruits and vegetables
    • Examples: rye bread, black beans, carrots, peas, oatmeal and avocado
  • Aim for at least 30 grams of fiber per day or more than 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Healthy fats, including unsaturated fats in moderate amounts
    • Examples: olive oil, canola oil, nuts (walnuts), seeds (flax), peanut butter, avocado
    • Serving sizes of fats are usually in teaspoons or tablespoons
  • Lean proteins, including eggs, fish, chicken and turkey
    • Baking, grilling, sautéing and steaming are preferred cooking methods
  • Avoid high fat meats, added sugar foods, alcohol and foods high in saturated and trans fats.

Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation can be taxing on your body. Fortunately, choosing quality healthy foods during treatment can help speed your recovery. “It is vital to avoid extreme diets or fad diets, such as a ketogenic diet, during treatment,” said Williams. “These fat diets usually don’t provide all the key nutrients your body needs during treatment.”

Instead, says Williams, focus on a well-balanced diet, including all food groups, and speak with your oncologist or dietitian if you have specific nutritional needs.

Some quick tips for building your plate during treatment include:

  • Choosing whole grains: whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta
  • Filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. For higher nutritional value, choose in-season produce
  • Picking dark leafy greens: kale, arugula, spinach
  • Limiting added sugar foods: baked goods, cookies, candy, sugary beverages
  • Buying lean meats and fish: chicken, turkey, salmon
  • Cooking food thoroughly. Avoiding raw foods like sushi and oysters

If you are experiencing a lack of appetite, or foods are tasting unpleasant, it is still important to get adequate nutrition, Williams said. Here are some tips for when you don’t feel like eating during treatment:

  • Eat small meals throughout the day
  • Keep your favorite foods on-hand
  • Choose higher calorie, nutrient dense options like puddings, nuts, beans, oatmeal
  • Make your plate pretty. Incorporating colors on your plate makes food more appealing

If you are experiencing some of the common side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Williams suggests following these tips to help you not dread mealtime.

To avoid:

  • Constipation: choose high fiber foods (more than 3 grams of fiber per serving) like beans, nuts, vegetables and fruits and drink plenty of water.
  • Diarrhea: eat bland foods that are easy to digest like bananas, rice, apples and toast and drink plenty of water
  • Mouth sores or dry mouth: puree foods to make them easier to swallow or choose soft foods or liquids
  • Nausea: eat bland foods, small frequent meals and drink water. Avoid greasy or fried foods.

After Treatment, Recovery, Remission

“It is essential that you continue to follow a healthy, balanced diet after treatment,” said Williams. ”Proper nutrition keeps your body and immune system strong.”

Following a healthy diet and incorporating regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy body weight after treatment.

Based on research, women who maintain a healthy weight after breast cancer are less likely to have a recurrence. Continuing to include whole grains, dark leafy greens, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean meats and healthy fats allow your body to continue to get stronger, build your immune system and help to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer.

Wayne UNC Health Care has a team of Registered Dietitians that provide individualized nutrition plans, group classes, medical nutrition therapy and other support to patients. For more information call 919-731-6508.

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