By Meghan Perkins, RD, Project Angel Heart
Curious about what you can eat to decrease your risk for cancer or to help you or a loved one through cancer treatment?
My recommendations for nutrition and cancer are similar to those I give for general well-being and health. However, there are specific aspects of a healthy diet that can be especially beneficial for cancer prevention and to help you maintain your energy and health during and after cancer treatment. Keep in mind that making even a few small dietary changes can have a big impact, so pick one or two areas and focus on making changes there.
Foods to Prioritize
Emphasize vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits contain powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals that help prevent oxidative damage and protect our cells. Diets rich in vegetables and fruits have been associated with lower cancer risk in addition to providing benefits for your brain, gut, and heart. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and zucchini. When selecting fruit, choose colorful options like berries, apples, peaches, pears, oranges, and melons.
Choose whole grains and complex carbohydrates. These foods help you maintain energy. They’re also good sources of fiber, which helps with digestion and promotes gut and heart health. Pick brown rice, whole wheat/whole grain breads and pasta, barley, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans/peas/lentils, and whole corn.
Eat lean protein from animal and plant-based sources. Getting enough protein is important for immune function and maintaining muscle mass. Choose chicken, turkey, fish, and beans/peas/lentils.
Include healthy fats. Eating the right type of fat can protect and improve your heart health and decrease inflammation in your body. Focus on unsaturated fats that are usually liquid at room temperature, like olive oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil. Avocado is also a great choice! Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial and are found in foods like nuts, flax and chia seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon.
Foods to Limit
Try to avoid or limit these foods, all of which are associated with increased risk for cancer.
- If you drink alcohol, stick to one drink or less per day if you’re female and two drinks or less per day if you’re male. One drink is a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounces of liquor.
- Red meat. High intake of red meat is associated with higher risk of colorectal cancers. Limit red meats like beef, pork, and lamb to less than 18 ounces per week.
- Processed meat. There is no “safe” threshold for deli meat, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, or other processed meats. Try to avoid them altogether.
- After cancer treatment you might be at higher risk for heart disease. Additionally, high-sodium diets have been associated with increased risk for stomach cancer. Eating a moderate amount of sodium can help decrease your risk. Aim to limit sodium to less than 2,400mg per day. Always check the nutrition facts panel of foods that come in a bag, box, package, or can.
A Healthy Recipe For Cancer Survivors
This nutrient-dense recipe from the Project Angel Heart kitchen is a favorite of our clients. We call for a mix of chicken breast and thigh meat, but you can easily use one or the other. This soup may be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days or in the freezer for three to four months.
Chicken Noodle Soup — Serves 8
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cubed
1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
2 onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
10 ribs celery, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 to 4 quarts chicken broth (low sodium)
2 cups white wine
2 bay leaves
1 pound egg noodles, dry
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh parsley and black pepper, to garnish
- Place a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Let it warm up for 2-3 minutes, then add the oil and chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides, then add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, until it is nice and fragrant and the veggies start to soften up.
- Add the minced garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to toast a little bit. Add the white wine and stir. Add 3 quarts of the chicken broth and bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Let the soup cook for 45 minutes to an hour.
- If the soup is too thick, add the remaining quart of chicken broth and bring back to a simmer. Then add the egg noodles. Simmer until the egg noodles are just cooked through, then promptly remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the lemon juice and season the soup to taste with kosher salt.
- Top with a little fresh parsley and cracked pepper, and serve with your favorite bread.
Nutrition Facts per serving:
*sodium reflects using 4 quarts low-sodium chicken broth and no added salt
About Project Angel Heart
Project Angel Heart is a nonprofit organization that provides medically tailored meals for Coloradans living with life-threatening illnesses. Our professional chefs use fresh, high-quality ingredients to prepare meals, which are delivered directly to clients’ homes. Clients participating in our core meal program, which is funded by philanthropic investments, receive up to two meals per day, free of charge. Through our newest program, Meals for Care Transitions, we’re also partnering with health care providers to support their patients’ recovery via home deliveries of medically tailored meals.