Breast Cancer and Nutrition: Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Overview

Nausea, vomiting, and mouth sores are all common side effects of breast cancer treatment. When you feel sick to your stomach and your mouth hurts, you may start to dread mealtimes.

Yet eating a balanced diet is especially important when you have breast cancer. Proper nutrition helps your body heal from treatment. Eating right will keep you at a healthy weight and help preserve your muscle strength.

If you’re having difficulty eating enough, use these tips to get more nutrition into your daily diet.

Foods to eat

Certain food choices are better than others for people with breast cancer. Here’s a quick guide.

  • Fruits and vegetables. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are high in plant nutrients called phytochemicals. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts may be especially good choices because they have anti-estrogen properties. Berries, apples, garlic, tomatoes, and carrots are also beneficial choices. Try to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Whole grains. Whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, and other whole grains are high in fiber. Eating extra fiber may help you avoid the constipation that certain cancer drugs can cause. Try to eat at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily.
  • Lentils and beans. These legumes are high in protein and low in fat.
  • Protein. Choose healthy sources of protein, which will help keep your body strong. Examples include skinless chicken and turkey breasts, and fatty fish such as tuna and salmon. You can also get protein from nonanimal sources like tofu and nuts.

Foods to avoid

On the other hand, there are certain types of foods you should consider limiting or avoiding completely. This includes:

  • High-fat meats and dairy products. These foods are high in unhealthy saturated fats. Limit fatty red meat (burgers, organ meats), whole milk, butter, and cream.
  • Alcohol. Beer, wine, and liquor could interact with the cancer drugs you take. Drinking alcohol is also a risk factor Trusted Source for the development of breast cancer.
  • Sweets. Cookies, cake, candy, sodas, and other sugary treats cause weight gain. They’ll also leave less room in your diet for healthy foods.
  • Undercooked foods. Cancer treatments can make your white blood cell count drop. Without enough of these immune-fighting cells, your body is left more vulnerable to infections. Avoid raw foods like sushi and oysters during your treatment. Cook all meats, fish, and poultry to a safe temperature before eating them.

 

Keto diet

If you’ve been reading up on breast cancer, you might have come across stories online claiming that one diet or another can cure you. Be wary of these highly exaggerated claims.

Certain types of eating plans — like the Mediterranean Trusted Source or low-fat diet — might help improve the outlook for some people with cancer. One study Trusted Source linked a low-fat diet to better odds of survival after a breast cancer diagnosis.

In contrast, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate eating plan that has gained recent popularity. You dramatically cut carbohydrates to put your body into a state of ketosis, where it’s forced to burn stored fat for energy.

Though a few studies have shown the ketogenic diet to be promising for certain types of cancer, it hasn’t been proven to treat breast cancer. And it can alter the chemical balance in your body, which could be risky.

Any diet you try should contain a healthy balance of nutrients, protein, calories, and fat. Going too extreme could be dangerous. Before you try any new diet, check with your dietitian and doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.

Plant-based diet

A plant-based diet means that you mainly eat foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. This is similar to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but many people who follow plant-based diets still eat animal products. However, they limit their intake.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends following a plant-based diet for cancer prevention. Their research shows that cancer survivors may benefit from this diet as well. This diet allows you to receive fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from plant foods, while also getting protein and nutrients from animal products.

Aim to fill two-thirds of your plate with plant foods, and one-third with fish, poultry or meat, or dairy. Try to avoid or limit red meat and processed meat.

Benefits of eating healthy

Eating a healthy diet is beneficial if you’re living with breast cancer, especially during and after cancer treatment. Good nutrition keeps your body healthy and strong, and helps you feel better quicker.

A healthy diet can help you:

  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • keep body tissue healthy
  • lessen cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment
  • keep your immune system strong
  • maintain your strength and reduce fatigue
  • improve your quality of life

Tips for eating healthy

Breast cancer symptoms and treatment side effects may leave you feeling too unwell to cook, plan meals, or eat as you normally do. Here are some tips to help make eating healthy easier.

Shrink the size of your meals

Nausea, bloating, and constipation can make it hard to eat three large meals a day. To get the calories you need, graze on smaller portions five or six times daily. Add snacks like granola bars, yogurt, and peanut butter on crackers or apples.

Meet with a registered dietitian

A dietitian can help you design a healthy meal plan that fits with your food preferences and nutritional needs. They can also teach you ways to manage cancer treatment side effects like nausea so that you can eat a more well-balanced diet.

If you can, work with a dietitian who has experience in treating people with breast cancer. Ask your oncologist or nurse to recommend someone.

Use different utensils

Sometimes chemotherapy can leave a bad taste in your mouth that gives food an unpleasant flavor. Certain foods — like meat — can take on a metallic taste.

To improve the taste of your food, avoid metal utensils and cooking implements. Use plastic cutlery instead and cook with glass pots and pans.

Plan and prepare meals ahead of time

Cancer treatment can take up a lot of your day and leave you feeling exhausted. Meal prep can help make eating easier. Also, if you prepare your meals ahead of time, you’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan.

Create a meal plan for the entire week. Ask your dietitian to recommend healthy, cancer-friendly recipes, or find suggestions through organizations like the American Cancer Society.

Cook an entire week’s meals over the weekend when you have more time. If you’re too tired to cook or you can’t stand the smell of it, ask a friend or relative to prepare meals for you.

Add more fluids

If your mouth hurts too much to eat solid foods, get your nutrition from liquids. Drink smoothies or nutritional beverages.

In addition, treatment side effects like vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you. Try to drink at least 2 to 3 liters of water, fruit juice, and other caffeine-free beverages each day. If you feel nauseated, drink herbal tea with ginger or peppermint to settle your stomach.

Takeaway

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’re considering trying a new diet or are having trouble sticking to a healthy eating plan, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.

After You Beat Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer and Nutrition: Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Your Journey After Treatment

There are more breast cancer survivors in the United States than any other group of cancer survivors. It’s a big number. It’s a good number. Three million, to be exact.

This staggering number means that in some way, breast cancer has probably touched the lives of at least a couple people you know. And it also means that more and more people are benefiting from early detection and advances in treatment. These days, breast cancer survivors often live long, satisfying, happy lives.

Here are a few tips for embracing your new normal and inspiring others along the way.

Be Patient With Yourself

Even when treatment is over, your physical body and emotional spirit are still healing. It’s important to remember that fatigue and other side effects of treatment don’t go away as soon as treatment ends. Whether with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or all of the above, your body just went through a major trauma and needs time to heal.

When you’re experiencing considerable adjustments and maybe even pain, it’s common to wonder how to embrace the changes to your body, your lifestyle, and your family dynamic.

You might be anxious about going back to work, school, or having to take care of your family. You could still feel very, very tired. You might even experience cognitive problems after chemotherapy, including mental fogginess and trouble concentrating and multi-tasking. This condition is often called “chemo-brain” and usually goes away over time.

Another thing some people struggle with is how their hair is growing back -- thicker, thinner, curlier, or even different color. Hair loss and regrowth might seem like a trivial aspect of cancer treatment, but it can have a big impact on a person’s outlook and ability to feel like themselves again.

All of these feelings and concerns are completely normal. With a little patience and support from friends and family, and frequent checkups with your physician, you can gradually find your new normal.

Eat Your Greens

Some people equate surviving cancer with getting a new lease on life. They use it as a motivation to ditch bad habits and focus on things that make them feel good -- inside and out. Eating a balanced diet high in antioxidants is one of the best and easiest ways to boost your health. There are even certain foods that can strengthen your immune system and help you maintain a healthy body weight, which are primary factors in the fight against cancer. There are many of these foods, including broccoli, tomatoes, blueberries and walnuts. (See Nutrition Tips for a Healthy Diet)

Get Moving

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. But even more importantly, there’s also research that shows that regular exercise can reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.

Exercise can also play a huge role in helping cancer survivors feel energized again. Evidence shows that exercise boosts your mood, your memory and can even help reverse the effects of stress.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to train for a marathon or join a powerlifting gym. Every bit of physical activity is beneficial and worthwhile. Consider pairing your activities with friends and enjoy the benefits of a little human connection, too.

Share Your Story

Whether you’re looking for advice and strength from others, or are ready to share your experience with patients who have just started their cancer journeys, getting social is key. Reaching out to the community is a great way to gain confidence, find support and possibly even help others. While your own story is completely unique and personal, there are certain thoughts, feelings, fears and emotions that many breast cancer patients can benefit from sharing.

You might even find ways to share your cancer journey in a positive, meaningful way. You can be a shoulder for someone to cry on, or an ear someone can bend. You have the chance to be the person you needed when you were first diagnosed for someone else. Now that’s powerful stuff!

Life after breast cancer will have its ups and downs. Some days will be better than others, but you’ll always have a different, unique, perspective on life to draw from. Some breast cancer survivors choose to celebrate their journeys by throwing a party, going on a trip, planting a tree – doing something special, memorable and meaningful.

Your physician can help you find a support group or volunteer opportunity that fits your own personal needs and desires.