Better breast cancer outcomes could begin with adopting a primarily plant-based diet.
Undergoing cancer treatment can take an inevitable toll on someone, physically and mentally. What some people are unaware of is that it can often impact energy levels and appetites. This is where nutrition plays a key role in one’s treatment path and overall well-being.
“One-on-one nutrition counseling may not be necessary for all patients, but it can be incredibly beneficial in terms of symptom management, risk reduction, and education on how to fully nourish oneself,” says registered dietician Sara Madden.
Sara, who sees patients in both primary care settings and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center–Washington Township, believes nutrition counseling gives many cancer patients a much-needed means of control. “They can’t control what their cancer does, but they can control what they put into their bodies. It puts the power back in their hands,” she says.
For people with breast cancer, in particular, one of the greatest nutritional focuses is actually weight management. This is because many studies have shown over the years that a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of breast cancer development and reoccurrence.
“It’s typically a very comprehensive health approach, in comparison to other cancers that can result in nausea, significant dips in energy, and other symptoms,” Sara explains.
What should you eat?
Plant-based, Sara explains, simply means anything that comes from the ground, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes. Around eight to 10 servings a day is suggested.
“When you look at your plate, roughly two-thirds should be comprised of plant-based products,” continues Sara. “The other third is where your animal protein sources come in. It’s cutting back on those significantly in comparison to the typical American’s diet.”
What shouldn’t you eat?
“You shouldn’t deprive yourself, but it’s important to be mindful and limit certain types of foods, specifically those high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium,” says Sara. These include red meats, fried foods, cured foods, pickled foods, packaged snack foods, and foods with a lot of butter or whole-fat dairy.
“Unhealthy fats can raise cholesterol levels, cause inflammation, impact cardiovascular health, and, in general, make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight,” says Sara. “Dietary fats, which are found in many of your plant-based foods, are helpful fats.”
Why does it work?
“Plant-based foods are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber—all of which strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and even prevent DNA damage,” explains Sara.
How can you do it?
It’s not about saying “no” to things; it’s about incorporating a variety of wholesome foods into our everyday diet, adds Sara. This doesn’t just mean during cancer treatment. Breast cancer patients should try to stick to a similar diet for the rest of their lives to help keep their risk low.
Luckily, there are countless recipes and ideas to try out. Sara provides her patients with many evidence-based, reputable sources to learn from, such as:
Remember, it’s not about finding a single food or supplement to act as a “magic bullet” against your cancer, says Sara. It’s about the big picture. Stay physically active, find healthy coping mechanisms to manage your stress and take care of yourself as much as possible.