Easy ways to eat healthier

A few additions and subtractions can equal a much better diet

It’s always a good idea to eat well. Healthy eating is particularly important during and after breast cancer treatment. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce your fatigue, increase your energy level and help you lose the weight you may have gained during treatments. If you get into healthy eating habits now, you can also protect your body from other illnesses like diabetes and heart disease in the future.

Remember: there’s no scientifically proven food or diet that can cure or prevent cancer. However, there are foods that promote overall health and others that should be minimized or eliminated from your diet.

It’s easy to eat healthier: All you have to know is which foods to eat more of and which to avoid. This list will start you off in the right direction.

Add to your diet

Fruits and Vegetables
If you only want to make one easy change in your diet, it should be this: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Some experts recommend as many as 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables for cancer patients. Why?

  • They are high in vitamins and other nutrients and low in fat.
  • Your body absorbs nutrients from fruits and vegetables much more easily and completely than it does from dietary supplements like vitamin pills.
  • They contain antioxidants—substances that may help to prevent certain types of cancer.
  • They are varied and versatile--you can eat them with meals, as snacks or as juices and shakes. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones.

Water
Another very simple way to improve your diet is to drink lots of water—aim for about 8 cups a day. Why?

  • It’s not fattening.
  • It prevents the headaches, fatigue and nausea that can be caused by dehydration.
  • If you drink lots of water you’re less likely to drink soda and other processed drinks that add empty calories (calories without nutritional value) to your diet.

High-Fiber Foods (whole grains, cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables)
Eating more fiber from whole foods is a good idea not because it cures cancer, but because it helps digestion and can help decrease your risk for heart disease.

Subtract from your diet

Meat
There is no scientific proof that a vegetarian diet helps to prevent or cure cancer. So you don’t have to eliminate meat from your diet. Still, it’s a good idea to eat less of it because meat has a lot of saturated fat that can increase your risk for heart disease. Eat more chicken and fish and less beef and pork.

Saturated Fat (found in whole milk products, oils and meat)
Eating less saturated fat may not prevent the recurrence of cancer (there’s no proof that it does) but it can reduce your risk of heart disease. During cancer treatments, you may actually want to eat more whole milk products to increase your calorie intake, but you should return to a low-fat diet once the treatments are over.

Alcohol
There are no proven benefits to cancer patients from alcohol and there is some evidence that it may increase the risk for breast cancer. Try to drink as little of it as possible.

Refined Sugar (white or brown)
Refined sugar is the kind that’s added to almost all processed foods. It hasn’t been shown to affect cancer in any way but it has almost no nutritional value and can make you feel tired by causing quick changes in your blood sugar level. If you eat a lot of sugar you’ll feel less hungry for healthy foods, so try to minimize it in your diet. 

References and Resources

  • Much of the information for this article was found in “Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment: A Guide for Informed Choices by Cancer Survivors,” as presented on the American Cancer Society website.
  • Another excellent resource for information on diet and nutrition is the Mayo Clinic website’s Healthy Living section.