When it comes to eating right, what we put in our bodies is very important. With the guidance of a registered dietitian, breast cancer graduates (survivors) can see what their nutritional needs are.
We recently got a chance to speak with Honey Bloomberg, a registered dietitian from EatRight Ontario. It’s a free service for Ontarians to call or email a dietitian for nutritional advice. We asked Honey a few questions about healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle for breast cancer survivors.
After Breast Cancer: What should cancer graduates consider when it comes to maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle?
Honey Bloomberg: Here are the factors that are important to consider. Always speak to a healthcare provider to figure out the right plan for your situation.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. (See points below). You may need to lose weight or maybe gain weight.
- Follow a diet for cancer prevention. This includes eating lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and lentils. Choose plant foods more often than foods from an animal source. You’ll also want to include some low-fat dairy and healthy unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil). A lower fat diet is recommended as it lowers the risk of heart disease and reduces the risk of breast cancer returning.
- Be active everyday. Start by aiming for 30 minutes per day and work your way up to 60 minutes of activity, which could be anything from walking, yoga and swimming to dancing and cycling. Regular physical activity lowers your risk of breast cancer returning.
- Avoid alcohol. Some research is showing that after a breast cancer diagnosis, drinking alcohol increases your risk of the cancer returning.
- Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Some cancer treatments affect bone health. Speak to your doctor or dietitian about the recommended amounts for you.
ABC: How important is it for breast cancer graduates to maintain a healthy weight? What is consider a healthy weight? Does it depend on the individual?
HB: Maintaining a healthy weight is important for cancer graduates (survivors) as it lowers the risk of developing new cancers as well as other chronic diseases. There are a number of ways to measure if someone is at a healthy weight such as measuring waist circumference or body mass index, however the actual number on the scale will be very individualized. The best thing would be to speak with your healthcare provider to find out what a healthy weight is for you.
ABC: Breast cancer survivors may experience poor appetite. Is there any food that can enhance appetite?
HB: Poor appetite can be caused by a number of reasons such as taste and smell changes, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, stress, depression or fear. There is no one magic food that will enhance appetite. What helps one person will be different from someone else. Depending on why the appetite loss is happening, there are different strategies that you can take (i.e., nausea would be different than changes in taste) but here are some general ideas:
- When you need to get some nutrition but it’s hard to eat, try a liquid or powdered meal replacement.
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. This can help prevent feeling too full.
- Find ways to add extra calories and protein without eating much more. You can add protein powder or nut butters to milkshakes; add cheese to soups, vegetables and casseroles, sprinkle nuts and seeds on yogurt, cereal and salad.
- Try not to drink during meals as this will fill you up too quick. Instead, drink high calories liquids between meals, like milk, juice and soy based drinks with protein.
- Eat a bedtime snack. This will give you extra calories but affect how you feel by the time breakfast comes around.
I highly recommend speaking with a dietitian to find ways to manage each individual’s specific concerns around appetite.
After Breast Cancer: How can we use diet and/or physical activity to combat fatigue? What can we do to boost our energy level throughout the day?
Honey Bloomberg: If you are experiencing fatigue, make sure to speak to a healthcare provider to find out why so you can come up with the best strategies to improve your energy levels.
Some healthy eating tips to manage energy levels:
- Eat small meals and snacks every 2-3 hours. This will prevent swings in energy levels and fatigue. Follow the general healthy eating guidelines in question #1.
- Drink plenty of fluids – boost the nutrition of your drinks by adding protein powder, greek yogurt, nut butters, seeds and even green leafy vegetables to milkshakes and smoothies.
- Check your iron to make sure that your fatigue is not caused by being low in iron.
- Keep meal prep easy so that energy is spent on eating and not cooking. Frozen meals, canned foods and even the prepared foods in the grocery store can make things easier. There are many nutritious options available. Grocery delivery or meal delivery services are also good options.
ABC: What should breast cancer survivor be doing and eating to prevent cancer recurrence?
HB: See points in question 1:
- Lots of plant-based foods: vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, whole grains. At least 2/3 of your plate should be plant foods. Limit foods from animal sources.
- Choose low fat dairy and some unsaturated fats, but overall follow a lower fat diet.
- Limit processed foods that are high in sugar and fat. Avoid alcohol as well.
ABC: For breast cancer survivor, what should be the one superfood to include in their daily diet?
HB: There’s no one “superfood”. Follow the points in question 1 and question 5 and choose foods that you enjoy eating. The most important thing is to continue to find joy and pleasure in eating a variety of healthy foods that make you feel well. Work with a dietitian to come up with an eating plan that meets your health goals.
Honey Bloomberg, MHSC, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and the Marketing and Communications Manager for EatRight Ontario. Please visit www.eatrightontario.ca for more information.