Content and information provided by Casey Coffey, MS, RD, LDN at Provision CARES Proton Therapy.
A nutritionally balanced diet is very important anytime, especially during and after cancer treatment. Consider planning your meals using a balanced plate approach. Eating meals with a balanced plate is a valuable tool to control your portion intake of the different food groups. While each section of a balanced plate is important, your body needs more of some and less of others.
All foods cause a hormonal response. Eating too much or too little of certain nutrients can cause a negative hormonal response, which is very stressful to the body and can cause chronic inflammation. This type of bodily stress and inflammation can put you at risk for developing chronic diseases such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, achy joints, and cancer. Here are some strategies for eating a nutritionally balanced diet during and after cancer treatment:
1. Eat clean – this means eating real, whole foods. Focus on a predominately plant-based diet. Ideally, food choices are minimally processed, meaning they are as close to their original form as possible. Look for no list of ingredients or a very short list of ingredients.
2. Include protein with every meal. Plan meals around a lean source of protein or protein that is rich in heart-healthy fats. Protein should fill ¼ of the plate. Good protein sources are:
- Chicken, pork chop, turkey, eggs, venison, shrimp and other seafood
- Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as wild-caught salmon from Alaska, rainbow trout, Arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, sablefish or black cod, anchovies, oysters, Albacore tuna caught from the North Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean, farmed-raised mussels, Pacific halibut, rockfish caught in California, or catfish raised exclusively in the US
- Limit intake of luncheon meats – when purchasing deli or luncheon meats, choose nitrite/nitrate-free options
- Tofu / edamame
- Low fat dairy – Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
- Small amounts of cheese can be used for flavor
3. Fill ½ plate with non-starchy vegetables. Fresh or frozen are ideal. A few examples of non-starchy vegetables that are good options are:
- Brussel sprouts, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, mustard and turnip greens, and lettuce (all salad greens)
- Tomato, carrots, zucchini, okra, mushroom, snow and snap peas, peppers (green, orange, red and yellow)
- Rhubarb, leeks, onion, radish, celery, and cucumber
- Water chestnut, kale, asparagus, artichoke, and green beans
4. Fill ¼ plate with unprocessed starchy carbohydrates. These are starchy carbs that are high quality (minimally processed or not processed at all) making them higher in fiber and more packed with good nutrition. The less processed a food is, the harder your body has to work during the digestive process…this is a good thing! Keep in mind that portion control is as important as the quality of your foods. Use the food label as a tool to determine how processed the food is. Short lists of ingredients without added sugar and with food words you can read and pronounce are ideal. The most ideal is a food that has either no label, such as produce from the produce section, or a single ingredient listed. Foods that have a long list of ingredients or added sugar are a less ideal choice.
- Best choice – Quinoa, sweet potato, fresh or frozen fruit, corn, peas, lima beans, garbanzo beans, legumes, lentils, barley, oatmeal (steel-cut or rolled oats) and whole grains (barley, oats, spelt, millet, amaranth, brown rice, wild rice)
- OK choice (on a limited basis) – whole grain bread, whole grain cereal, quick oats
- Least ideal choice – French toast, cereal with added sugar, pasta, dried fruit, cereal bars, crackers, chips, boxed grains with flavor packets, cookies, cakes, pies, white potatoes (causes large spike in blood sugar), white bread, or bread made with refined grains
5. Incorporate heart-healthy fats in small amounts. Use extra virgin olive oil (in cooking), avocado, nuts and nut butter, seeds and seed butters, chia, flax seed, hemp hearts, hummus, salad dressings made with whole ingredients and extra virgin olive oil. Avoid salad dressings that are fat-free (these generally have lots of sugar added to them), sweet salad dressings, or salad dressings that have added sugar. Eating fatty fish provides heart-healthy fats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. When planning a meal with a fatty fish, it is not necessary to add additional fats to the meal.
6. Drink plenty of fluid – aim for 10-12 (8oz) cups of fluid daily.