By Vicki Barber, Registered Dietitian, Oncology Nutrition Specialist, Nuvance Health
Focus on Breast Health is a series of tips to inform and empower you to be proactive about all aspects of breast care.
Just as nutrition can play a key role in reducing breast cancer risk and supporting your body during breast cancer treatment, it can also be a valuable tool during survivorship. A healthy diet — combined with exercise and weight management — may help to reduce your risk of recurrence and improve your quality of life.
What is the role of nutrition after active treatment ends?
The role of nutrition during survivorship is to promote healing and overall wellness to lower the risk of a breast cancer recurrence.
At Nuvance Health, we encourage our breast cancer patients to meet with a registered dietitian routinely during treatment so they feel prepared to continue a healthy diet and lifestyle after active treatment ends.
How does diet influence risk of breast cancer recurrence?
After active breast cancer treatment ends, one of the main concerns most people have is, “Will my cancer return?”
There is not one specific type of food or diet that will decrease risk of breast cancer recurrence. However, there is some research that shows a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can have a positive impact in reducing risk of cancer recurrence.
If you are a breast cancer survivor, it can be motivating to view food as a tool in your arsenal against cancer recurrence, along with exercise, health screenings and wellness checkups.
Another way to think about diet during survivorship is that you went through many steps during treatment to achieve a positive outcome. You have the strength to continue taking steps to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence by eating healthy and staying active.
What type of diet should I follow during survivorship?
We understand everyone has unique tastes and circumstances that influence their food choices and options. A universal mantra is everything in moderation with the aim to set realistic expectations so you can successfully meet your diet goals.
Generally, we recommend most people follow a heart-healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet or plant-based diet. Examples of these types of food include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Lean protein, such as chicken and fish
- Legumes, such as beans
- Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa
You do not need to be a vegan or vegetarian to follow a plant-based diet. Consider the proportion of animal to plant foods you are consuming. You can follow a plant-based diet by consuming about two-thirds plant-based foods and one-third animal-based foods.
Choose fresh foods versus ready-to-eat or processed foods like microwaveable meals. These types of food tend to have many ingredients and can be high in refined sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fats.
Added sugars and fats are common ingredients in processed foods such as baked goods, candy, cereal, juice and soda. Many people may not realize the excess calories these foods have and lack of nutritional value.
Consuming too much of these types of food can contribute to weight gain and increase risk for obesity. Obesity can be a risk factor for breast cancer. Learn more about risk factors for breast cancer.
Before consuming food that is processed or packaged, read the nutrition label and look for fewer ingredients and ingredients you recognize.
Finally, focus on getting nutrients from food first versus getting them through supplements. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about which nutritional supplements may be right for you if you are unable to get the nutrients you need from food.
How can nutrition help me recover after breast cancer treatment?
Diet recommendations during recovery depend on the individual and type of treatment. For example, people who have radiation therapy or surgery may not have the same side effects as someone who had chemotherapy.
We offer tips for navigating individual concerns. For example, some people who have chemotherapy may lose their sense of taste, which could affect their diet. It may take a couple weeks for their sense of taste to return after finishing treatment. We will develop a plan for them to get adequate nutrition during the time it takes for their taste buds to return.
Some people may feel tired after cancer treatments, making it difficult to prepare meals or eat. We can develop a plan that includes easy-to-prepare options tailored to the patient’s individual needs.
The bottom line: Breast cancer patients tend to be very motivated and want to make healthy lifestyle changes. Nuvance Health’s registered dietitians can help patients with breast cancer set realistic goals during treatment and survivorship that promote optimal wellness.
Learn more about breast cancer care at Nuvance Health.