Let’s face it:
Cancer treatments are harsh on the body. The predominant side-effects might vary, but there is overall damage to the normal cells.
While nutrition is just as crucial in recovery as it was during treatment –
the good news is, food is one of the things that you can be in control of during and after cancer treatment.
By providing your body enough nutrition, you can cope better and recover faster.
So what is the best diet for a breast cancer patient or survivor?
This guide covers nutrition tips from medical experts and registered dietitians, plus 59 delicious meal recipe ideas with videos that you can get inspirations from –
including foods to eat and avoid when a patient is experiencing side effects induced by chemo and radiation therapy, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, mouth sores, etc.
1. High Protein Diet to Boost Immune System and Repair Cell
According to American Cancer Society, protein is essential for maintaining a good immune system, and cell repair. They are the building block of our body.
Since there is damage to both the immune system and normal cells, people with cancer should take a diet that is rich in protein. Whether you are undergoing chemotherapy or breast-cancer surgery, protein is what you need the most for faster healing.
As elaborated by Dr. Harness in video below, the best diet for a breast cancer patient is heart-healthy diet with high protein and low fat:
Avoid red meat, processed and packed meat.
Consider adding nuts, fish, chicken, eggs, peanut butter, etc to your diet.
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Check out the high protein meal plan below by Michelle MacDonald, a registered dietitian at National Jewish Health who teaches cancer patients how to eat healthy during treatment.
She recommends to anchor each meal with 4 ounces of chicken, fish / seafood, or turkey.
The video below shows 3 fast and easy high protein recipes that you can consider:
- Roasted chicken salad recipe (260 calories for 1 serving) with ingredients include lettuce, corn, lemon juice, dried origano, mustard, and olive oil.
- Chicken with bell peppers (260 calories for 1 serving) and other ingredients like garlic clove, fresh green beans, onion, and cilantro.
- Tuna and white beans (230 calories for 1 serving) alongside onion, white vinegar, parsley, etc.
And the video below shows the recipes of 7 scrumptious salmon dishes:
- Grilled salmon with avocado salsa with olive oil, pepper, cilantro (optional), etc.
- Lemon herb salmon and veggies with mushroom, dried oregano, dried basil, etc.
- Grilled citrus salmon and asparagus with lemon, cloves garlic, parsley, etc.
- Parmesan crusted salmon with panko breadcrumbs, asparagus, olive oil etc.
- Easy zesty salmon burgers with yogurt, fresh chives, fresh dill, etc.
- Honey soy glazed salmon with ginger, cloves garlic, red pepper, etc.
- Maple-glazed salmon with ground ginger, broccoli floret, etc.
These should give you some inspirations to come out with your own creative fish recipes with salmon, halibut, tuna, and pacific cod with high protein.
A common related question is:
While soy is also a good source of protein, is it safe for breast cancer patients and survivors – including women who were treated for estrogen receptor positive breast cancer?
Despite being infamous previously for having phytochemicals similar to estrogen, newer studies suggest that people who eat soy more have lowered risk of developing breast cancer, as well as have improved survival rates.
These protein and antioxidant-rich food are great for preventing the recurrence of breast cancer, says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Isoflavones present in soy are known to inhibit tumor growth and limits production of hormones related to cancer as well.
In video below, Dana-Farber breast cancer expert Dr. Wendy Chen reaffirms that eating soy products is safe for breast cancer survivors.
2. Omega-3 Rich Foods – Especially Flax Seeds
Polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA includes healthy fats like omega-3. Having a diet rich in omega-3 is proven to prevent as well as reduce the growth of tumor cells in breast cancer.
Having omega-3 food is also great for losing weight, as per some researches revealed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
You can discuss with your doctor then add omega-3 rich foods in your diet. This will provide you the healthy cholesterol that your body needs but will not cause weight gain.
It is recommended that you take them in the form of natural foods, and not in the form of supplements that may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Foods that are rich in Omega-3 include:
- fish (eg. salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines)
- nuts (eg. walnut, almonds)
- seeds (eg. chia seeds, flax seeds)
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Here are 3 Mayo Clinic’s recipes and recommended methods to cook with nuts:
And in video below, Lacey shared 5 easy and fast homemade Chia jam recipes that are sugar-free:
- Strawberry Chia Jam
- Blackberry Chia Jam
- Peach Chia Jam
- Blueberry Chia Jam
- Raspberry Chia Jam
As a great vegetarian/vegan alternative to fish in terms of omega-3 rich foods, flax seeds possess enormous health benefits and nutritional content that cannot be ignored.
This omega-3, fibers, and lignan rich seeds should be part of the diet plan of breast cancer patient/survivor.
The followings are some of the proven benefits of flax seeds, as revealed by Frontiers in Nutrition:
- Lignans are structurally similar to human estrogen, and hence they bind to the estrogen-receptors and block them. This decreases cell growth. Thus, it has an anti-estrogen activity.
- It promotes cell-death in breast cancer tumor cells, suppresses growth and size of tumor.
- It also reduces tumor cell division.
Watch the comprehensive “Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence” video below by Dr. Greger to learn more:
It is recommended to take all the nutrients mentioned above in their natural food state, and avoid taking any additional supplements during chemotherapy, because:
- you don’t know how they might interact with the chemotherapeutic drugs, and many studies show their supplemental forms may interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy.
- some of the nutrients are better absorbed in their natural forms. For example, phytochemicals in the supplement forms are not that easily absorbed. Always speak with your doctor regarding the intake of any extra supplements.
3. Breast Cancer Diet with Food Rich in Carotenoids
Carotenoid rich foods are particularly protective against the estrogen-receptor negative breast cancers, which are less common but more difficult to treat. They also prevent recurrence of the disease, especially the more aggressive and fatal kind of tumors.
For instance, research revealed by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows higher concentrations of carotenoids were associated with 18 – 28% statistically significantly lower risks of breast cancer.
This research is further elaborated by Dr. Ben Weitz in the following video:
In the following video, breast cancer expert and cancer survivor Dr. Dawn Mussallem shares further information about the role of Carotenoids in fighting and preventing cancer:
These are all the brightly colored foods like tomato, carrot, watermelon, apricot, oranges, sweet potato, and other deep green vegetables, etc.
Adding such food in the diet, including in the form of salads and fresh fruits juices (not packed or preserved), are beneficial for breast cancer patients.
In video below, food writer and television presenter Donal Skehan shares a great tomato soup recipe, which starts by roasting tomato and garlic, then add on the following ingredients:
- balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- sea salt
- ground black pepper
One of the easiest way to add Carotenoid into the diet is taking tomato carrot juice, as below:
And here is a quick and healthy vegan recipe with carrot and potato –
alongside other ingredients like jalapeno, onion, garlic, turmeric (optional), etc.
4. Cruciferous Foods – and Tips on How To Prepare/Cook
Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, radish, turnip etc are some amazing food options to consider adding to your diet.
According to National Cancer Institute, cruciferous foods are proven to neutralize various carcinogens and promoting a healthy breakdown of estrogen.
The phytochemicals present in these foods prevents the formation of new blood vessels to the tumor cells, prevents DNA damage, has anti-inflammatory properties and induces cell death in cancer cells. They also prevent recurrence and improves survival rates post-treatment.
Dr. Lisa Schwartz elaborates more on cruciferous veggies and breast cancer in the video below:
Apart from this, they are a great source of fibers and other minerals.
Cruciferous foods and vegetables are not necessarily boring, as you can be creative with them – just like the 10 easy veggie snacks shown in video below that you can get some inspirations from:
And the following video shows 4 spinach recipes –
including examples of meals that are combined with other high protein foods such as chickpeas, white beans, and chicken breast.
If you want to know more tips regarding how to prepare/cook broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables –
then don’t miss these two videos by Jimmy and Dr. Greger:
5. Diet Tips for Side Effects After Chemo and Radiation
While adding the above foods in diet would be helpful, you should not limit yourself only to these.
You may or may not like having certain foods during cancer treatment as a result of altered taste sensation or other chemo-induced side effects, so it’s okay to have other fruits and vegetables that you might enjoy more taste-wise.
Here are some diet tips that can help to ease the side effects induced by chemo and radiotherapy on the body, so that you can feel better and stay stronger:
Constipation and Diarrhea
Diarrhea and constipation are two of the most common side-effects of chemotherapy. Your fiber intake should depend upon which of the side-effect you are currently/predominantly having.
Charis Spielman, certified specialist in oncology nutrition, shares her nutrition tips in video below on how to manage diarrhea and constipation as side effects induced by cancer treatment:
If you are someone who suffers from constipation, consider having a diet rich in both insoluble and soluble fibers:
- Insoluble fibers absorb less water, increase bowel action, and best for constipation only. Examples of source: nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grain, etc.
- Soluble fibers, on the other hand, are the type of fibers that absorb more water, and good for both constipation and diarrhea. Examples are oatmeal, bran, beans, peas, lentil, etc.
A combination of these two types of fiber, along with a high intake of water will help form and excrete stool easily.
Here are 4 healthy fruit salad recipes packed with insoluble fibers that can help breast cancer patients who experience constipation after chemo and radiation therapy:
If you are someone who is suffering from diarrhea, consider having food rich in soluble fiber.
These foods are easy on your digestive tract and are handled better by your body. It will not stimulate the bowel much and will be digested easily.
Here are 3 simple but delicious bean recipes packed with soluble fiber, and you can exclude any spicy ingredients (such as chipotle powder) when you take these during diarrhea:
Nausea and Vomiting
During chemotherapy, you might suffer from nausea that reduces your overall intake of nutrition.
To tackle nausea, divide your meals into 5-6 (or more) smaller meals, rather than 3 larger meals.
As hot foods may produce smell that make cancer patients with nausea and vomiting feel more sick, so eating food cold or at room temperature is better tolerated.
Avoid high-fat, sugary, processed and packed foods.
Sonia Marcil, registered dietitian of The Ottawa Hospital, shared her diet tips on nausea and vomiting side effects during cancer treatment in below:
Eat bland foods such as crackers and dry toast, while avoid fatty and spicy foods.
Drink clear liquids such as apple juice, tea, broth, etc – with one of the easiest choice is ginger tea.
Ginger has numerous natural medicinal properties, and it can serve as an antiemetic to prevent vomiting.
In video below, health and wellness chef Alia Dalal demonstates how to use ginger to combat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. You can add lemon, honey, or cinnamon as you like.
No Appetite, Metallic Taste, or Mouth Sores.
A lot of people lose weight during chemotherapy, attributed to nausea and oral ulcers resulting as a side-effect.
Some patients also lose appetite due to emotional and mental stress that is caused by the disease.
And another common side-effects of chemotherapy is metallic taste, especially to water and meat. This might cause you to drink less water. Consider flavoring your water with natural sources like lemon or other fruits of your choice. Also, preparing your meals with natural spices are beneficial.
Not only the spices will flavor up your food but it is also proven to fight cancer cells, according to research published by Nutrients Open Access Journal.
The following video covers useful tips on how to manage symptoms associated with cancer treatment, as shared by nutrition specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:
It’s important to make sure that you are taking enough nutrients, or opting for low-fat high protein diet during chemotherapy. Eating healthy, keeping moderate activity, and managing stress will all help you.
A nutritional deficiency will make it difficult for your body to heal, and being overweight increases the chances of cancer recurrence.
Mary Anderson, an oral chemotherapy registered nurse clinician at Norton Cancer Institute, shares her recommendations in video below on what to do when a cancer patient does not have appetite to eat after chemotherapy.
You can try something light, such as combining the nutritious Ezekiel bread with avocado.
The following video shows 11 avocado toast recipes, with some of them add on other high protein foods like smoked salmon, tuna, and more.
Liquid diets are also a good option when you have oral ulcers developed as a result of chemo.
You can go for protein shakes, yogurt, fruit juices, soups, and broths.
Here are 5 healthy meal replacement smoothies recipes packed with protein that you can get some inspirations from, while low fat milk can help to prevent the progression or development of breast cancer, according to Medical News Today.