Our previous post discussed the importance of creating a healthy diet and lifestyle plan for breast cancer patients and survivors. Eating well during treatment will help to promote healing and maintain energy and strength. After treatment is completed a healthy diet and lifestyle will contribute to reducing risk of breast cancer recurrence as well as reducing risk of other health problems such as high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
But what does a nutritious diet plan look like for cancer patients and survivors? Let’s start at the beginning by taking a look at nutrition basics, what we call the major or macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
This Breastlink nutrition post is second in the series Eat Well to Stay Well. Here we will introduce the macronutrients and briefly discuss how they contribute to health and well being.
Overview to a Healthy Eating Plan
A healthy diet to reduce breast cancer risk is one that:
- Includes a primary focus on fruits and vegetables.
- Is rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts.
- Incorporates fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Emphasizes healthy fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, while reducing saturated fat intake.
- Contains fewer sweets, added sugar and sugary beverages.
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats: Nutrition 101
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are macronutrients that provide the fuel everybody needs for energy, growth and repair. All three macronutrients are important for good health and they play an integral role in the how the body functions. To meet the body’s daily nutritional needs adults should consume 45% to 65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20% to 35% from fat, and 10% to 35% from protein.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, essential to physical activity and proper brain and organ function. Whether you love ‘em or leave ’em we all need them and it’s a good thing because carbohydrates are found just about everywhere in our diets from fruits to grains, and from nuts and seeds to dairy, the list goes on and on.
Carbohydrates provide around half of the total daily energy needs for a healthy diet in addition to providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all very good things for breast cancer patients and survivors. Many carbohydrate foods are also good sources of dietary fiber which aids digestion, promotes healthy metabolism, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels and even helps you to feel full longer.
When it comes to choosing carbohydrates in your diet the more nutrient-dense the better. These include foods like 100% whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, starchy vegetables (leave the nutrient-rich skins on those potatoes), legumes, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Limiting simple sugars from refined grains, processed snack foods, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages will help both patients and survivors to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases.
Protein is an essential part of every cell in the body. It is used to build and repair body tissue and to support immune function which helps to prevent infection and promote healing. For this reason it is especially important for women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment to include adequate protein in their diet.
- Protein is found in a wide variety of foods: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and even grains.
- Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and soybeans are considered complete proteins because they provide all of the necessary building blocks, called amino acids, required by the body.
- There are protein foods like legumes, grains and some nuts and seeds that do not provide enough of the essential amino acids by themselves but when combined with other foods and as part of a balanced diet they do supply complete protein.
When selecting meat choose lean cuts like pork or beef tenderloin. Limit red meat to 2 servings per week as it is higher in saturated fat than fish, poultry and plant based proteins. Skinless poultry is generally lean but beware when choosing ground turkey or chicken as most is ground along with skin and fat.
Look for labels that say 100% ground turkey or chicken breast; otherwise these products are not much lower in fat than ground beef. Frozen or fresh, fish is a great protein source. When developing your ideal diet plan, be sure include a 3-4 ounce serving of fish at least twice a week. Foods like quinoa, beans, peas and lentils are also rich in protein, as are low-fat dairy and eggs. Plant based protein foods are also rich in other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Fat plays many important roles in the body, storing energy, insulating tissues and transporting vitamins through the blood. In addition to tasting good and giving foods moisture, dietary fats also slow down digestion. This contributes to the feeling of satiety (feeling full and satisfied) after a meal.
There are 4 types of fats: trans, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. The structure of these fats is what determines how they behave in the body and the ultimate effect they have on health.
- Trans fat is primarily produced during food processing and is the worst offender when it comes to health because they are shown to not only increase bad (LDL) cholesterol but also decrease good (HDL) cholesterol.
- Saturated fat is mostly solid at room temperature. These fats are found mostly in animal and whole fat dairy products. Reducing dietary saturated fat intake should be an important part of a healthy diet plan for breast cancer patients and survivors as consumption can make it difficult to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, lead to a rise in bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and play a role in chronic inflammation.
- Poly and monounsaturated fats (PUFAs and MUFAs) are generally recognized for their healthy benefits. Various vegetable oils like olive, canola, peanut and safflower oils, are good sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Of particular interest are the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly found in cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Because our bodies cannot make this type of fat we must obtain it from food sources, and for this reason Omega-3’s are called the essential fatty acids. Thousands of clinical trials have documented the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids as these fats are found in every cell of the human body. They play a vital role in maintaining normal blood pressure, managing inflammation and supporting cognitive function as we age, among many other functions.
For more information about the Breastlink Nutrition Program and to learn more how a healthy diet and lifestyle may help to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence, please visit our Nutrition Program page.
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