Nutrition and Cancer FAQs: Part Two


As a helpful resource to our current and future OncoPower members, we are going to be assembling past ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on nutrition and cancer and posting them occasionally on our blog. We hope these FAQ’s will serve as a reference point for anyone with similar questions and act as a spark for new conversations on related topics. Please feel free to consult our Registered Dietitians using our Ask-A-Doc service for any follow-up questions you may have, we are here to provide support for cancer patients! 

Q: Can I substitute honey in my green tea instead of sugar? 

A:  We all have sugar circulating in our body, it’s our body’s main source of energy. And if you are regulating your sugar appropriately, if you don’t have diabetes, insulin resistance, if your cancer isn’t causing any blood sugar-related issues, then having white table sugar in your tea, as long as it’s one or two teaspoons of sugar, it should be fine. If you want to use honey, that is also totally fine. Your body doesn’t really know the difference between table sugar and honey, but if you like the taste you can go ahead.

What you do want to be careful of is having tons of sugar at once or tons of sugar all the time.  This is going to cause your blood sugar levels to be high, which can cause excess growth and excess cancer cell production.  So, focus more on quantity than type of sugar consumed if you are looking to curb cancer risks. 

Q: What is a superfood?

A: A ‘superfood’ is a term for a food item with higher than normal levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals in it.  This term was coined by the media, and it doesn’t have a scientific definition so isn’t typically used by experts.  Foods which are commonly referred to as ‘superfoods’ are blueberries, kale, sweet potatoes, salmon, dark chocolate, and pomegranates.  These foods are certainly very healthy, and all people should be encouraged to eat them – but the most important key to an anti-inflammatory diet is variety. 

Q: What is the best diet for a breast cancer patient on chemotherapy? 

A: Breast cancer is unfortunately very, very common. General cancer nutrition guidelines apply here, however specifically for breast cancer care there are a few points that stand out.

First, you want to make sure you are monitoring your weight – it’s one of the few cancers where treatment can cause weight gain. Research shows that if you gain more than 12-15 pounds you can have worse outcomes – so you want to make sure that you are aware of this, and can talk to your doctor if weight loss during treatment is appropriate.

Next, whole soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, or soy milk should be included in the diet at least 1-2 times a day. Soy contains a plant-form of estrogen, which can be beneficial for breast cancer patients. Focus on whole soy foods not soy protein isolate, as there is not as strong of research on this kind of food.

Additionally, flax seeds are also beneficial for breast cancer patients. They are high in lignans, a kind of phytonutrient, which has been shown to benefit patients with breast cancer specifically. They are also high in fiber and omega-3 fats, so they are triple threat for inflammation levels.

As far as supplemental vitamins, you should always discuss with your doctor before starting any herbal or vitamin supplements. Each person’s case and medications are unique and may generate different recommendations.  That being said, breast cancer patients have been shown to have some benefit from a standard multivitamin three times a week, but you want to make sure it is good quality and from a reputable source. 

Q: Is beef and chicken okay for a breast cancer survivor? 

A: In terms of protein sources, your lean poultry – chicken and turkey with no skin on it, are totally fine. There are no recommendations for how much is too much, so having some animal protein, some poultry, is just fine. In terms of beef, that’s something you want to limit to once or twice a week. We do know there is a link between red meat and cancer, not necessarily breast cancer but we always want to make sure we can prevent other cancer occurrences. So red meats like beef, lamb, pork, and especially processed meats like sausage, bacon and ham should be limited or eliminated from the diet.

Other good protein options would be beans, legumes, and lentils. These foods they have protein plus fiber to feed your gut bacteria and reduce inflammation levels. You should also consider soy foods and fatty cold water fish like salmon and mackerel, which is rich in omega-3 fats that help reduce inflammation as well. 

Q: Is Vitamin D good for cancer?

A: Vitamin D is one of the only supplements I recommend people take – of course, discuss with your care team so they can check your blood level for appropriate supplementation amounts. But most people, especially in the US, are low in vitamin D. We know now that vitamin D is a workhorse of the body. We used to only think it was only involved in bone and dental health, but now know it’s tied to immunity, respiratory function, and cell proliferation which relates to cancer risk and progression. So most people can benefit from a supplement – Vitamin D3 is best absorbed by the body, but your cancer care specialist can discuss specifics with you. 

We’ll be posting more FAQs in the coming weeks, but for now join our community at OncoPower and enjoy support for other members, advice from cancer physicians, mindfulness practice and more!

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