How can I improve my nutrition during and after breast cancer treatment?

Especially with hormonally connected cancers, like breast cancer, weight gain can be a problem needing attention. During chemotherapy or radiation therapy, it is attractive to reach for "comfort" foods" that are often rich in starches and refined sugars to bolster one's spirit. It is believed that these foods provide amny calories without much good nutritional value. Weight gained during breast cancer treatment (like in prostate cancer, also hormonally-dependent) is very hard to lose and may predispose you to a recurrence.

It is not surprising that the guidelines for healthy eating for healthy Americans, heart health and cancer survivors are all very similar: more plant-based foods, proteins from vegetable or low fat animal sources, whole grain carbohydrates; all in proper quantities in realtion to 'ideal body weight' and amount of physical activity.

If you have been treated in a cancer center accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, they will be familiar with the Dieticians or Nutritionists in your area with special expertise in cancer, or even have one at the center itself.

More general information about weight gain associated with breast cancer can be found in LEARN to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know and Do, recently published by Demos Health.

One of the best ways to improve nutrition is to eat fresh. When at the supermarket, shop the perimeter of the store. This is where you can find the fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh lean poultry and fish, as well as whole grains. This is a lifestyle change that will improve your life through all stages of cancer. More individualized nutrition education can be completed by a Registered Dietitian board certified in oncology nutrition.
Eating right can be a challenge for anyone, but it can get even tougher during and after cancer treatment. Treatment may change your sense of taste. Nausea can be a problem. You may not feel like eating and lose weight when you don't want to. Or you may have gained weight that you can't seem to lose.
Keep in mind that these problems usually get better over time. You may find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours until you feel better. You may also want to ask your cancer team about seeing a dietitian, an expert in nutrition who can give you ideas on how to deal with these treatment side effects.
One of the best things you can do after cancer treatment is put healthy eating habits into place. Try to eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Choose whole grain foods instead of those made with white flour and sugars. Try to limit meats that are high in fat. Cut back on processed meats like hot dogs, bologna, and bacon. Better yet, don't eat any of these, if you can. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks a day at the most.
Some cancer survivors can be malnourished and underweight at diagnosis or as a result of cancer treatment. These people may need help gaining or maintaining their weight. But many people are overweight or obese at the time of a cancer diagnosis. Along with a good diet, exercise can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. This may be one of the most important things a woman diagnosed with breast cancer can do. Most studies have found that women who are overweight or obese when they are first diagnosed are more likely to have their disease come back and are more likely to die from breast cancer. Overweight women should be encouraged to lose weight after treatment. In some cases, a modest weight loss program may even be started during treatment, if the doctor approves.
Safe weight loss should be achieved through a well-balanced diet and increased physical activity tailored to your specific needs. Reduce calories in your diet by eating lower-calorie foods (such as vegetables, fruits, soups, and cooked whole grains), limiting fat and sugars, and limiting portion sizes of high-calorie foods. Increased physical activity is also important in promoting weight loss, and in keeping weight off in patients who are overweight or obese. Even if an ideal weight is not achieved, it is likely that any weight loss will still have significant health benefits.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.