If you've just received a breast cancer diagnosis, food might be the last thing on your mind. But filling your plate with breast cancer fighting foods is important. Throughout the treatment process, healthy foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods can help your body manage medical treatment and support you as you deal with the stress of a diagnosis.
Surgery and other treatments for breast cancer be challenging, but a focus on healthy lifestyle habits, like nutrient-rich food and gentle exercise, can nourish your body, support healing, and help keep you get into the best fighting shape to handle any challenge that comes your way.
Breast Cancer Diet Plan Benefits
Getting important nutrients can help improve how your body responds to cancer treatment. Fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts and seeds, enough protein and garlic and cruciferous vegetables are some of the foods that help fight breast cancer.
Of course, food is no cure-all. Your comprehensive treatment plan will be developed together with your healthcare professional and care team. You might also request to meet with a registered dietitian who can develop a personalized breast cancer diet that aligns with your dietary preferences. Paying attention to your diet and finding the best nutritional plan can help you in a number of important ways.
Helps to Improve Appetite and Reduce Nausea
Chemotherapy and other treatments can cause nausea and decreased appetite. These symptoms can make it harder to eat enough healthy foods. As a part of your breast cancer meal plan you might want to follow a few tips to help manage nausea.
- Before meals, have a thin slice of fresh ginger with a spritz of lime juice and a shake of salt.
- Plan small meals and snacks packed with nutrients can help you improve your nutrient intake and help you stay healthier through treatment.
- Try ginger tea with meals, taking a sip between bites of food.
Helps to Improve Comfort
Researchers know that your relationship with food changes during chemotherapy for breast cancer. Foods that you used to enjoy might become foods that turn your stomach. Foods that you used to enjoy turn into foods that are unpleasant. Studies have also shown that your desire for certain foods might change as your condition changes. For instance, as pain intensifies, cravings for starchy foods, juices, and foods with a bitter flavor tends to increase. All of these shifts in appetite and cravings can affect your overall quality of life.
As these changes occur, it can become helpful to experiment with and identify foods that help you to feel better. You can try it on your own by exploring foods listed below. Or you might seek the guidance of a registered dietitian who can work with you to find foods that you enjoy, that bring you comfort, and that can help your battle manage treatment.
Helps to Create a Sense of Normalcy
Many women with breast cancer say that they simply want to be treated with a sense of normalcy. They want to do the things that they used to do, like binge-watch shows, or just laying around on the couch with friends.
For many women, especially those with families at home, meal time is part of their normal routine. So while they might not choose the same foods that they chose during treatment, developing a meal plan that provides comfort and other benefits gives them the opportunity to live like they used to live, enjoying hearty meals with loved ones and savory warm, nourishing foods.
Helps to Boost Muscle Mass
Breast cancer can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in body fat, but there are ways to help manage this through getting enough protein and exercise. The loss of muscle mass is linked to higher risks for complications and building muscle with resistance exercise and adequate protein intake can help improve quality of life when dealing with breast cancer.
The Best Breast Cancer Fighting Foods
Here are some of the types of foods that give you the nutrients you need during breast cancer treatment. If you're not up to eating, try the comfort food tips.
Beans, peas, lentils, lean meat, dairy and fish are all excellent sources of protein, and these foods are so easy to add to your meals and snacks. So how much protein is enough? To help avoid muscle loss, it's important to try to get 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 140-pound woman requires 76 to 95 grams of protein daily.
Comfort Food Tip: Saute some minced garlic with a little olive oil, add a can of pinto beans, a dash of dried oregano and warm through. Mash the mixture, serve over a warmed whole wheat tortilla and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Fruits and Vegetables
Foods high in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E can help maintain your nutritional status during breast cancer treatment. Green, orange and yellow vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, which is important for boosting your immunity. This includes foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and mangos.
The healthful compounds in garlic and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, radish, turnips and broccoli are especially helpful in battling breast cancer cells. These breast cancer fighting foods include potent antioxidants and bioactive compounds that can prevent and delay cancer activity in breast cells.
Comfort Food Tip: Heat a can of vegetable soup, top with a little Parmesan cheese and serve with some warm crusty bread.
Whole grains such as whole wheat, rye, barley, oats, popcorn and brown rice contain phytochemicals that help manage the health of cells in the body to fight breast cancer. One study of 250 women with breast cancer showed that having seven or more servings of whole grains every week is helpful.
Comfort Food Tip: Dip whole grain tortilla chips in salsa or guacamole.
According to a 2017 meta-analysis of 15 studies, saturated fat is strongly linked to poor outcomes in fighting breast cancer. Cut back on foods with saturated fat such as full-fat dairy products, butter, and fatty meats including bacon, regular ground beef, pork belly and beef ribs. Consider choosing healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.
Comfort Food Tip: Have a handful of walnuts or your favorite mixed nuts.
Meal and Snack Ideas for Fighting Breast Cancer
Putting these food recommendations into practice might sound hard, but choosing healthy convenience foods can cut down on the time you spend shopping and preparing what you eat. These five throw-together options take into account your busy schedule. You can substitute lean meat for the beans in any of these recipes by using frozen strips of meat to save time.
If you're not a fan of vegetables and fruit, it's possible you just haven't found an appetizing way to have them! Crispy roasted vegetables, delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies and tasty dips featuring vegetables might help you include more of them in your day.
Roasted Vegetables with Black Bean Pasta
Toss chopped broccoli, cauliflower, onions and peppers with olive oil, spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and roast for about 25 minutes at 380 degrees F (193 C). Saute two cloves minced garlic in a saucepan with a little olive oil. Add black beans to the pan with the garlic, add a little more oil, a splash of Balsamic vinegar, rosemary and oregano. Serve over cooked whole wheat pasta (or pasta made with legume flour such as chick pea or lentil) and top with Parmesan cheese.
Why It's Recommended: This is an easy meal to get cruciferous vegetables, healthy oils, garlic, whole grains and protein.
Pro Time-Saving Tips:
- Use bagged, prewashed vegetables.
- Use frozen minced garlic.
- Make a batch of pasta, store in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Make extra to have for lunch the next day.
Hearty Vegetable Soup
Heat a large pot over low to medium heat, add a little vegetable oil, saute chopped onions until translucent, add three minced garlic cloves and saute until browned. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste, stir often for 2-3 minutes to brown the paste. Add a bag of kale, stir and cook until wilted. Add a can of stewed tomatoes with the liquid, vegetable broth, some parsley, thyme, rosemary and pepper and finally add canned pinto beans (rinsed and drained) and cooked pasta.
Why It's Recommended: This one-dish meal is a great way to get cruciferous vegetables, healthy oils, garlic, whole grains and protein.
Pro Time-Saving Tips:
- Use frozen chopped onions.
- Use up your pasta that you have in the refrigerator.
- Use canned beans.
- Use bagged, prewashed kale.
- Use a carton of pre-made vegetable broth.
- Use dried herbs.
- Keep soup in the refrigerator for up to three days, freeze any leftovers for upcoming meals.
- Keep a few extra cans of tomato paste and stewed tomatoes to have on hand for next time.
Quick Salmon Salad
Combine a packet or can of salmon with white vinegar, olive, safflower or sunflower oil, dill and pepper. Serve with whole wheat crackers and your favorite fruit.
Why It's Recommended: This simple lunch or snack is a great way to get fruit, whole grains, protein and healthy oils.
Pro Time-Saving Tips:
- Use individual packets of salmon or canned salmon.
- Use dried dill.
Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie
In a blender combine 1 cup any type of berries, 2 cups kale, one 5.3 oz. container 0% or 2% Greek yogurt, any flavor, a dash of vanilla and some ice cubes. Serve with a side of plain oatmeal topped with a few tablespoons of your favorite nuts.
Why It's Recommended: This supplies cruciferous vegetables, fruit, protein, whole grains and healthy fats.
Pro Time-Saving Tips:
- Use frozen fruit.
- Use bagged, prewashed kale.
- Buy a 4-pack of your favorite Greek yogurt to have on hand.
- Use plain instant oatmeal.
Combine one 5.3 oz. container plain nonfat or 2% Greek yogurt with ½ teaspoon each dill, onion powder and garlic powder. Dip whole wheat crackers and vegetables.
Why It's Recommended: This is a great way to get protein, vegetables and whole grains.
Pro Time-Saving Tips:
- Use dried herbs.
- Use pre-cut vegetables.
Foods to Avoid on a Breast Cancer Diet Plan
The list of unhealthy foods for breast cancer may come as no surprise. A review published in Advances in Nutrition compiled this list of foods to avoid with breast cancer:
- Added sugar - instead of regular soda, sugary cereals and sweets scour the ingredients list for sugar and skip foods with too much, try water flavored with a little fresh ginger and lemon, whole grain cereals such as plain oatmeal and a square of dark chocolate as a treat.
- Alcohol - nothing can really replace alcohol, but you can try to distract yourself by switching to sparkling water with a splash of juice or a cup of your favorite tea.
- Refined flour - instead of white flour pasta, cereals and breads choose whole wheat versions, and try quinoa, popcorn, brown rice and oats.
- Saturated fat - instead of butter, full-fat dairy products and fatty meats choose olive, avocado, sunflower or safflower oil, a small amount of 2% or fat-free dairy and plant-based proteins such as lentils, beans and peas when possible.
Breast Cancer Diet Plan FAQs
Should I take supplements?
It's common to consider taking supplements to help your body deal with cancer, but studies are inconclusive on dosage guidelines and safety. Be sure to discuss any supplements you take with your healthcare professional since certain supplements may interfere with treatments.
Should I avoid foods with soy on a breast cancer diet plan?
Over the years there has been a lot of confusing information about soy foods and breast cancer in the media. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that there is no increased risk of recurrence for breast cancer survivors from consuming soy foods. A meta-analysis of eight studies found that soy foods are protective against breast cancer and don't increase risk of the disease.
Should I exercise in addition to following a breast cancer diet?
Exercise is also shown to improve appetite, manage diarrhea and, as a bonus, it can also improve sexual function. Just 30 minutes of activity five days per week can be beneficial, such as strength training and walking. Strength training is shown to also help manage lymphedema and help your cognitive health. Here is some guidance on the types of exercise:
- Twice per week try to do strength training exercise for all the major muscle groups in your body. Consult with a fit friend or a trainer to help you develop a program you feel good about.
- Take a walk with a friend 3-5 days per week. This can help you get activity while helping improve your connection to others so you can have the support you need.
What types of foods can help prevent breast cancer?
These same recommendations are also linked to preventing breast cancer to begin with. Research also supports:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines and grapefruit are especially protective.
- Red and processed meats should be limited.
- The Mediterranean Diet with plenty of produce, legumes, olive oil, nuts, plant protein, whole grains, fish with small amounts of red meat, poultry and dairy products is shown to be protective.
Taking care of yourself as you go through breast cancer treatment is important. If you're not hungry, consider comfort food options. The last thing you need is more stress, so let your friends and family help by cooking meals, shopping for these easy-to-use ingredients or coming by for a walk.