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Breast cancer diet recommendations?

  • m

My sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her diet tends to be a little sketchy, and I'm trying to help her move to a diet more conducive to recovery. The first step was getting her off the diet sodas, sugar, red meat, and processed stuff. Now I'm looking for solid resources for appropriate diet recommendations. I don't know that I can get her to go veg, -- organic whole foods may be the best I can do. Can anyone recommend any good books or websites for some solid information?

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  1. I have been reading up on food and cancer after seeing a report on the news last week about the new American Cancer Society guidelines. Here are a few sites that I have bookmarked:

    The new American Cancer Society guidelines http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHeal...




    Recent study found that a part-time low carb diet can help prevent breast cancer http://www.aacr.org/home/public--medi...

    7 Replies
    1. re: EM23

      Thanks, EM. I will be checking these all out.

      1. re: maxie

        You are welcome Maxie and best wishes for your sister's recovery.

      2. re: EM23

        The American Cancer Society resources are great--I worked there for years, and the publications have solid, scientific-based information, including ideas if a pt. is receiving chemo and/or radiation. Best wishes to you and your sister--my sis is over 20 yrs. post-breast-cancer treatment, a great inspiration. BTW, are you aware of The Sister Study? Great folks doing high-tech study and follow-up of sibs who have sisters who have/had breast ca.--I've been on board with them for years, and respect their work tremendously. Best wishes to you both.

        1. re: pine time

          Thanks for the info. The Sister Study looks interesting, though they are now only enrolling sisters who both have breast cancer. Sounds like they are doing good work.

          1. re: maxie

            maxie, may I ask, how is your sister doing? Am hoping for improvement! I don't see a way to e-mail you, so sorry to ask if it's inappropriate.

            1. re: Val

              It is going slowly. She is on her third surgery, and struggling with infection. once she clears up, she starts chemo. Unfortunately she has not been on board with dietary changes. Still hoping for the best.

              1. re: maxie

                (((((maxie)))))...hang in there! I have a co-worker also who was resistant to any dietary changes, (different kind of cancer) and every situation is different, I know that....am thinking of you and your sister...

      3. What a great sister you are.

        "Organic whole foods" isn't just a second-best! Sounds like it's a vast improvement and a great path for her. :) IMHO, for fighting any long-term illness I wouldn't recommend vegetarianism unless it's absolutely imperative medically, since things like bone broth are so restorative -- plus then you have the additional problem of meat substitutes being full of soy which for breast cancer seems like it would be good to avoid. Obviously any meat or dairy with hormones added is right out, but I wouldn't hesitate to include both of those things if they're organic or non-hormone-treated (I say "or" because many smaller producers can't afford organic certification even though they use organic practices, or can't be certified organic if they, say, occasionally use antibiotics to treat a sick animal -- all that to say, don't be tied to an organic label).

        Best wishes to your sister and to you as you support her!

        5 Replies
        1. re: LauraGrace

          Thanks LauraGrace. I completely forgot about bone broth. I think if I can get her on organic whole foods, she will be much better off. Much tastier, too!

          1. re: maxie

            Sally Fallon suggests adding apple cider vinegar to bones making stock to draw out more minerals. You can even add egg shells and vinegar to add calcium to the broth. When I use the crock pot for this (24 hours)- the egg shells and bones get very soft and the stock is jelly when refrigerated. I bet this would be good for your sister.

            1. re: maxie

              My hubby has been going through chemo for months...i've made lots of bone broth. My Korean friend has been bringing it to us, too. SHe also suggested soups made with doenjiang (fermented soybean paste) and albalone porridge, since albalone is supposed to be very nutritious. Seaweed soup, too , if she likes it.

              I'd also suggest that she try to get lots of protein in her diet. Her body will need it to recover after therapies. Try out a few different brands of protein shakes to see what she likes, for when she just doesn't feel like eating solid foods. We ended up getting some from Costco that had the highest amount of protein per serving.

              1. re: gimlis1mum

                +1 on the protein.. my father had chemo years ago, right after coming off the atkins (super high protein) diet. they told him to expect to loose all his hair, along with all the usual side effects. He might have gotten a bit more tired than usual (he was about 75 at the time), but other than that he sailed through! He lost a little hair on his arms of all places - that was it!

                that being said, I've heard wonderful things about going completely raw food as well....

                1. re: rmarisco

                  I think raw may pose a risk to compromised immunity during cancer treatment, though?

                  But a big thumbs up for protein; you can't repair damaged tissues without it.

          2. ((((maxie)))) you are a wonderful sister ...and I hope that your sister beats this right out of her! Cancer runs in my family, my brother died of colon cancer 2 years ago, which is what our dad died of too. I'm going to offer you this video of how to slow cancer...this website by Dr. Micheael Greger offers a lot of research and data ... the substance sulforaphane in broccoli seems significant also in fighting particularly breast cancer (discussed in a different video) See what you think and I hope this can be of some small guidance or help...I agree with others who've said get the growth hormones OUT OUT OUT of her and OUR diets...


            one more on lignans' beneficial effect for surviving breast cancer:

            1 Reply
            1. re: Val

              Thanks, Val. I'll take a look at these. It sounds like exactly what I'm looking for.

            2. If she likes the idea, juicing might also be a nice thing to explore. Especially if you are trying to get her to feel happy about cutting down on the diet sodas, processed foods and whatnot. Juices (even juices made mostly with vegetables) can be quite sweet and delicious. And if she has to have chemo (I didn't, so I'm speculating here), a little ginger in her juice might help her to feel less ill, as well? And if getting a juicer, using it and keeping it clean is more than you think she's ready to sign up for right now, there are lots of pretty-good alternatives: odwalla? bolthouse (the carrot people)? your neighbourhood juice bar, if you are lucky enough to have one nearby?

              1 Reply
              1. re: linengirl

                Easier than juicing, we're going to try variations of green smoothies to balance out the sugars with fiber. That way she can add nuts or protein powder if necessary. The addition of ginger is a great idea. I need to check in her neighborhood for juicing places. They might be a refreshing treat.

              2. I looked at the various websites recommended and found the best recommendations on this site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/co...

                I have not personally had cancer, but I have helped with 3 family members and a friend deal with their treatments. One thing I learned is that each one reacts differently and the foods they can tolerate are different. The worst was my mother who the last month or two of her chemo treatment could only tolerate fresh boiled chicken (ie bought that day, could not be frozen or cooked the day before), fresh piece of london broil, baked potato, hard boiled egg and Boost. If we got 1000 calories in her a day we were happy. She is not normally a picky eater which actually made it harder since she LIKES her fruit & vegetables. She also found she could not tolerate the taste of Ensure and we were recommended Boost which she could tolerate.

                Remember their tastebuds change and food that they loved before may taste awful. Chemo can make some foods taste metallic. They may be nauseous, chemo kills young cells including the ones that line the stomach so they cannot tolerate some foods, etc. They can get mouth sores, etc. So just go with the flow and expect changes with their diet (which can change day to day depending upon how they feel and the point they are in the chemo cycle) and don't get upset when they cannot eat the optimal diet.

                I also second the recommendation that she get plenty of protein. This is especially crucial after surgery.

                BTW be careful with juicing, especially fruit juice if you have gout in your family. The high concentrations of sugars in fruit juice and chemo can cause gout attacks. Plus this will give her alot of acidic foods at once which I found with my family they could not tolerate. If she can tolerate juicing then fine but be aware it may be a problem for some people. I cannot say it enough, be flexible and go with the flow.

                My best hopes for her being one of the lucky ones that doesn't have food issues during her treatment.

                4 Replies
                1. re: kosherGlutenFree

                  This is a great link. Thank you! Also -- though she hasn't had it, there is gout in the family, so I'm now aware of the need for backing off of juicing. We don't yet know for sure what her complete treatment will consist of -- this helps me be prepared for different scenarios as well as the possibility we will need to rethink things.

                  1. re: maxie

                    Sorry to hear you also have gout in your family. I was so glad to see you were aware of the fiber issue. My mother's against juicing since it eliminates the fiber which is so important and can give you too much of other things if you are not careful. We just eat LOTS of fruits & vegetables (like 9+ servings a day is our goal).

                    Something my family seems to like is to eat small meals throughout the day. It seems to be easier on the stomach. Things like small baggies of nuts, dried fruit are handy when you are not home and my sister always seems to have a bottle of water in her hand. She likes a little lemon in it so always has that on hand. She also uses True Lemon (dried lemon flavor--it isn't full of junk and is handy when you run out of lemon or when you are traveling), they also make True Lime and True Orange. I prefer the lemon with lime second best. Drinking helps get the chemo out of your system faster but you have to make it easy to drink. Based on what I have seen if it is cold, with a little flavor and always easy to sip they will drink more.

                    1. re: kosherGlutenFree

                      Since she switching from soda to water, the additions may be just the ticket. Mint and cucumber water may be a good thing too. Don't know why I'm not drinking that at home. So many options here!

                      1. re: maxie

                        Yes to mint and cucumber water and citrus waters -- a friend of mine likes fruit water of all kinds -- strawberries and lime slices floating in icy-cold water is pretty delicious. Sparkling water hits the spot for my soda cravings and is a good digestif and stomach-settler too.

                2. You should read THE ZONE DIET, by Barry Sears...this book has been around for a long time but is really still one of the more sensible 'diet' books out there. Besides outlining a very well thought out and effective, easy to maintain lifetime diet plan (which is all about balance and not being too protein heavy OR too carbohydrate heavy), he has some interesting things to say about cancer patients and things they can do with diet to maximize effectiveness of treatment and even potentially 'starve' tumors by avoiding problem foods.

                  1. Hi, Max-

                    I have just finished my treatment for cancer. I had triple negative breast cancer, and I am working with a nutritionist who consults for an oncologist. Here are some highlights of my food plan:
                    Low sugar/low carb
                    Low fat
                    4 cups of veggies daily
                    Cruciferous veggies daily
                    4 servings lean protein daily
                    6 oz fat free yogurt daily
                    No processed and/or artificial food

                    My thoughts and prayers are with your sister. She is lucky to have you in her corner. Treatment is horrendous but she will get through it.

                    18 Replies
                    1. re: Nikki NYC

                      Thanks, Nikki! I hope your treatment has been successful. The tough part is getting my sister on board. In theory, she is understands she should be on a plan similar to what you outline. In reality, she is opposed to "healthy tasting" food. I'm not sure why she thinks these things are mutually exclusive, but she does the best she can, and her treatment is going well so far.

                      1. re: maxie

                        Best wishes, Maxie, to both your sister and for you. I think her focus now may be getting through the heavy-lifting work of active therapy. She might be more open to dietary changes later. Some oncologists or chemo units have dieticians (registered dietician, not a health food store vitamin seller) available. Hope you can provide good support and role modeling, even if she's not yet ready to make changes.

                        1. re: maxie

                          During treatment, my oncologists said to eat whatever I wanted. And I did! My diet was not healthy but it was the last thing I wanted to worry about. Now I am making up for lost time! :-)

                          1. re: Nikki NYC

                            Good to know that's how it works! Glad you're back in business.

                            1. re: Nikki NYC

                              I'm in treatment and so far I'm finding my appetite is huge! My mouth is a bit sore so I'm not eating very hot food (temp or spice) - but apart from that it's 'all systems normal'. Of course that may change, so I'm making the most of it and eating lots of lovely things while I can!
                              (my usual diet is pretty much the same as the recommended chemo diet, so I'm just upping the ingredients to include more luxury items - plus butter!).
                              My chemo nurse said at the first session that I should eat high calorie foods (she cited cake, ice cream and chocolate) - and I found that advice quite appalling as it only applies to those having problems eating enough.

                              1. re: Peg

                                I'm probably against the tide here, but I'd opt against a carby diet and for proteins and fats. They're what your healthy tissues are made from and you cannot maintain or replenish without them. I have read various studies (Harvard Nurses, Mexican women, others) that find that women who eat the most starch have the highest b ca rates and those who eat the most fat have the lowest. Cancer cells feed on glucose and the dietitian is telling you to eat foods that almost entirely metabolize into excess glucose. Wishing you good health and speediest recovery.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  Thanks mcf!
                                  My normal diet is low carb, low fat, high fibre, low sugar, meat free, lots of fish.
                                  I've added a bit of fat to make sure I maintain a steady weight - apart from that I've made no changes at all to what I eat.
                                  I imagine that if my normal diet was comprised of 'junk' - and the chemo made me nauseous - then I would find it very hard to make healthy adjustments to my diet.

                                  1. re: Peg

                                    You need fat for normal immune and brain function, a recent study found that 40% fat was healthier than current reccos. You especially need a good source of heme iron right now, too. Most lipids researchers think it's impossible to have optimal immune or brain function on 30% fat or less.

                                    Fat is the one macronutrient that does not convert to blood glucose.

                                2. re: Peg

                                  Hi, Peg! Good luck with treatment. It's rough but you'll past it before you know it.

                                  My oncologists all told me to eat what I wanted during treatment, and I really enjoyed my junk food! Even with my poor eating habits, I had an incredible response to chemo, thank goodness! As soon as I was done, however, I was told by everyone - my oncologists, nutritionist, every article I read - that I needed to eat low fat. I'm not a doctor, but the research indicates a link between fat and recurrence. I also eat low carb because some research indicates a link between high glycemic diet and recurrence, although there is not as much of a basis for that as the low fat.

                                  Let me know if you have any questions.

                                  1. re: Nikki NYC

                                    Hi Nikki - thanks so much for your reply!
                                    I eat low carb anyway as it eases my IBS, and low fat because it eases my, well, fat!
                                    I'm allowing myself some cheese on chemo 'cos a girl has to have a treat.

                                    So far I seem to be eating for two - I'm hungrier than usual (stomach rumbling hungry - not just cravings) and am trying to maintain a constant weight.
                                    As the cycles progress I'm sure my eating will change - but as you are undoubtedly aware, nothing is predictable!

                                    1. re: Peg

                                      Hey, Peg-

                                      How's it going? I hope you're feeling strong and doing well.


                                      1. re: Nikki NYC

                                        Hi Nikki - it's sweet of you to ask.
                                        I've had 3 (of 6) chemos - and so far I'm doing very well indeed.
                                        Maybe it's the steroids that form part of the drug cocktail, but I'm finding I have an increased appetite - so I've gained a couple of pounds that I was not expecting.
                                        Foodwise I am able to eat anything - but some flavours have vanished (for example I can't taste lime, which is weird). Chillies burn unpleasantly for a few days after chemo - not hotter, just a different mouth sensation. High temperature foods burn my mouth more easily, but I've not had any serious mouth issues like others have had.
                                        I am completely 'off'' alcohol for much of the cycle, for which I'm sure my liver is grateful as it has plenty of poisons to cope with!

                                        Tomorrow is 'chemo day' so I'm drinking loads of water to ensure I'm fully hydrated when the drugs enter my system - it seems to massively reduce any nausea. So far I've only felt mildly queasy, which marks me as one of the lucky ones.

                                        I try to eat one high protein meal (usually fish) and one veg based meal a day - snacks are fat-free plain yoghurt, nuts and the occasional chocolate when someone brings me some!

                                        All in all it's been a bit of a non-event so far - hopefully that will continue!


                                        1. re: Peg

                                          It's sooo normal to out on weight during chemo. Everyone I know ate crap during treatment and put on weight. Sounds like you are on a really good eating plan!! My taste buds couldn't handle wholesome food, I'm impressed. And there were a lot of Twizzlers consumed during ivs!

                                          You are halfways done. Before you know it, you will be done with the entire ordeal. I am so glad to know you are being positive. Thinking of you today. Keep fighting!!!

                                          Nikki xox

                                          1. re: Peg

                                            Glad to hear you're tolerating treatment well and able to get good nutrition in, too. Halfway done, YAY!

                                            1. re: mcf

                                              Best wishes. Sounds like you're taking good care of yourself and you have a positive attitude!

                                            2. re: Peg


                                              How are you feeling? Hope things are going well for you.


                                              1. re: Nikki NYC

                                                Hiya Nikki!
                                                I'm well. Chemo was kind to me.
                                                Since treatment finished my only medical dietary advice has been to avoid saturated fats, As a non-meat eater that means I need to avoid cheese, which is a real penance for me. I let myself have 100g of cheese every couple of weeks because life's too short not to have a few treats! I'm also avoiding soy, as my cancer was hormone driven.
                                                The drug I'm now on can have reactions with alcohol, but again I'm one of the lucky ones and booze doesn't seem to affect me any worse than normal, in fact it seems to help with some of the side effects.
                                                Onwards and upwards....

                                                1. re: Peg


                                                  How are you feeling?? Hope all is well and healthy.


                              2. I recommend the book "The end of dieting" (sounds like a weight loss book, but it is really just about a healthy diet in general). It has a lot of great advice and sample recipes and success stories good enough to make anybody want to change their diet by the time they're done reading it! My mom is in remission from breast cancer, and from this book I got some statistics that I passed on to her, specifically that she should eat more cruciferous vegetables and also that soy intake (not too little but not too much either) is associated with a decrease in reoccurence of breast cancer. Also that processed foods, meats, and dairy are highly correlated with more breast cancer.

                                Best wishes to your sister.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mariathewholefoodie

                                  Association in no way means causation.

                                  Meat and dairy are not connected to breast cancer without the presence of processed food and starches. Hyperinsulinemia from excess starches has a stronger connection to it, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers.

                                  In the Harvard nurse's study (thousands of women studied for decades) those who ate the most fat had the least breast ca, those who ate the most starch had the most of it.

                                  Later, that was found to be the case in a study of young Mexican women, too.