What To Eat During Treatment

By Hannah Ziegler

Learning you have cancer can render you powerless over your body. One of the ways women have taken their health into their own hands is through their diet. Although cancer has a mind of it’s own, some studies show that specific foods may have a benefit in cancer patients undergoing chemo therapy, or should be avoided. That’s why we spoke to Dr. Jill Shainhouse, a Naturopathic Doctor. She gave us some helpful tips about some of these foods and a “cancer diet” as a whole. NOTE: It is always important to check with your healthcare team and consult a professional before making any radical changes to your diet or taking supplements.

First thing’s first: what can you eat?

I recommend maintaining a whole foods diet during treatment and to focus on vegetables, fruits, sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, lentils, lean proteins such as chicken, turkey and fish.

What if I’m vegetarian or vegan?

If a patient chooses to maintain a specific diet such as a vegan diet, I will support that decision and ensure they consume adequate plant protein from a variety of sources and low glycemic index carbohydrates.

What should I avoid during treatment?

It is my general recommendation to reduce any processed, high sugar or excessively spicy foods during chemotherapy. Often patients are under the impression they will lose weight on chemotherapy, however, due to the common addition of steroids as a pre-medication with most chemotherapy regimens, appetite usually increases and patients may gain weight. On the contrary, if a patient is having difficulty eating, I will have them resort to a simple diet including bone broths, blended soups and easy to digest, simple meals that include cooked and lightly seasoned whole foods as listed above.  I may add in nutrient dense smoothies that might include a protein supplement, especially if caloric intake is very low.

There is some talk about avoiding antioxidants during chemo — is there any proven research behind this idea?

There is some evidence that antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C, E and Selenium should be avoided both during chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Theoretically, if patients are immunocompromised, they should avoid raw foods that carry an associated risk with their consumption.  For example, it is not recommended that patients consume sushi (raw fish) during their treatment or while they have low immune function.

Turmeric does not need to be avoided, however, the active constituent:  “curcumin” is contraindicated with certain chemotherapeutics such as cyclophosphamide. Curcumin may be helpful to add to radiation protocols, although the literature shows more statistically significant benefit in some publications versus others.  One study published in the journal Radiation Research in 2013 showed that daily oral curcumin reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients.

Dr. Shainhouse is a certified member and fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. She has 12+ years of experience in her field and is one of only Naturopathic Doctors in Ontario to have the highest standard of training in naturopathic oncology.  She is the owner and director of Insight Naturopathic Clinic in Toronto.        

For more stories on nutrition and breast cancer, click here.

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