What to Eat if You Have Breast Cancer

Cleveland Clinic
  • Linda Canterna, RD

If you or someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, there will be questions. These may include: What should I eat?

During any cancer therapy, remember these four diet tips:

  1. Stay hydrated (mostly from caffeine-free fluids)
  2. Get enough calories (for energy)
  3. Focus on nutrients (maximize nutrients per calorie)
  4. Don’t forget protein (to help maintain lean body mass/muscle)

If you don’t have nutrition-related side effects from your cancer treatment that limit your ability to eat and/or digest food, you can follow a generally healthy diet that includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables (five or more servings/day)
    Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant and anti-estrogen properties. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are especially good to include and are rich in phytochemicals.
  • Whole grains (25-30 grams of fiber daily)
    Whole grains are unprocessed foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, phytochemicals as well as vitamins and minerals. A study by researchers at Soochow University in Suzhou, China, found that high fiber intakes may have a positive effect by altering hormonal actions of breast cancer and other hormone-dependent cancers.
  • Nutritious fats but decrease your fat intake to < 30 percent of calories
    Some studies, including a study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, have suggested that the type of fat you consume may initiate the development of breast cancer. Limit your intake of saturated fat such as beef, lamb, organ meats, butter, cream, etc. and decrease your intake of foods containing trans fats. Increase your intake of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, sardines to three times per week.
  • Lean protein (and soy too)
    For good protein sources, increase your intake of poultry, fish and beans (legumes and lentils). Minimize your intake of cured, pickled and smoked foods. Soy in moderate amounts (one to two servings/day of whole soy foods, such as tofu, edamame and soy milk) can be included. Studies, including research reported in the American Institute for Cancer Research, show that animals metabolize soy differently than humans and that soy isoflavones are not harmful when consumed in moderate amounts and do not increase a breast cancer’s survivor’s risk of recurrence or death.
  • Alcohol in moderation, if at all
    Drinking alcohol is a known risk factor for breast cancer. A large, observational study of 105,986 women suggested that drinking three glasses of wine or more per week throughout life increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by a small but significant percentage. The study saw a 15 percent increased risk of breast cancer when women drank an average of three to six drinks per week – compared to women who did not drink. Try to avoid intake of alcoholic beverages when possible.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
    Obese women have higher levels of estrogen circulating in their bodies than women who are in their ideal body weight range. Many studies including a study conducted by researchers from the Iranian Institute for Health Sciences Research in Tehran, Iran, have demonstrated an association between body mass size and breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Weight reduction through a healthy diet is usually going to be the most successful route.

Potential cancer fighters in foods

Phytochemicals support human health and are found in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. Below, find common foods that contain important phytochemicals.

Phytochemical

Food Source

Sulforaphane

Broccoli sprouts

Isothiocyanates

Mustard, horseradish, cruciferous vegetables

Phenolic Compounds

Garlic, green tea, soybeans, cereal grains, cruciferous vegetables, licorice root, flax seed

Flavanoids

Most fruits and vegetables

Organo-sulfides

Garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, cruciferous vegetables

Isoflavones

Soybeans, legumes, flax seed

Indoles

Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussels sprout

Carotenoids

Dark yellow/orange/green vegetables and fruits

If you have side effects

If you experience nausea, your nutritionist may recommend that you try to eat more cold foods because they don’t have a strong odor, as well as lower-fat items since fats take longer to digest.

If constipation becomes an issue, your nutritionist may encourage you to eat fiber-rich foods and increase your fluid intake. To combat fatigue, choose high protein snacks and small frequent meals rather than large meals.

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