Plant Based Diets
With so much nutrition information at our fingertips, it can be hard to make sense of it all. For the cancer patient, it be even more of a challenge. One common question that gets a lot of attention is a plant based diet. So what does this mean, and should you be following it?
What is a plant based diet?
A plant based diet centers around consuming foods derived from plants instead of animals. Vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and soy are the main food groups in a typical plant-based diet. Animal products, such as meat, dairy, eggs and fish may be consumed as well, just on a smaller scale.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends 2/3 of one’s daily calorie intake should be from plants and 1/3 from animal products.1 Increasing the general intake of fruits, vegetable, beans and whole grains while reducing total meat, dairy eggs and fish in the daily diet can have many health benefits.
Benefits of a plant based diet
Following a plant-based diet is shown to be advantageous for health. Vegetables, fruits, soy, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains can prevent cancer from occurring due to their high concentration of antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. For cancer survivors, including individuals with a history of lung cancer, plant based diets have been shown to help to prevent recurrence.2 Some additional benefits include:
Fiber, a nutrient found in only plant foods, can boost digestive health and strengthen the immune system.3 For individuals with cancer, a strong immune system is crucial to prevent infections, sickness, and treatment delays. The vibrant colors represent phytochemicals, which are important for protecting body cells from any damage that can cause cancer.
Plant based foods are also important to prevent heart disease.1 Avocados, nuts and seeds, and soy contain healthy fats and fiber that can reduce high cholesterol and promote beneficial heart health.
The combination of high fiber and nutrient content coupled with lower calories is effective in helping with weight loss or maintenance. Overweight and obesity can increase the risk of cancer recurrence for a number of different cancer diagnoses, which further supports the importance of maintaining a plant based diet.4
Be Mindful When Making Changes to Your Diet
For the individual with cancer, there are some things to keep in mind. Although it is possible to get all the essential proteins from plant foods, but if it is a newer way of eating for you, it can be more challenging during cancer treatment. For example, those consuming more plant foods should pay attention to consume enough calories and protein, which helps the body recover properly after treatment.5 Since weight loss can be a concern for many cancer patients following a strictly plant-based diet, it may be difficult for those undergoing treatment to get enough calories. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to consult with an oncology certified registered dietitian to make sure you are getting adequate protein, calories, and nutrients for your body during your cancer treatment if you have or plan on making any changes to your diet.
Benefitting from a mostly plant based diet does not require a radical approach, any way that you can add plant foods to your diet can be beneficial to your health. For example, adding fruit to your oatmeal, a salad with lunch, including steamed vegetables drizzled in olive oil with dinner, or using avocados, nuts, and nut butters for added calories can provide your body with extra fiber and antioxidants essential for good health during your cancer journey. After all, you are what you eat, and food is part of your medicine for good health.
1Get the Facts on Fiber. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/diet/elements_fiber.html?_ga=2.127962825.412246095.1514302582-1784915318.1511833863. Accessed December 26, 2017.
2What you Need to Know about Preventing Lung Cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/cancer-site/cancersite_lung.html?_ga=2.47090279.1506569480.1506713576-467606187.1506460449. Accessed September 29, 2017.
3Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153(Supp 1): 3-6.
4Obesity and Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/weight/reduce_weight_cancer_link.html. Accessed December 26, 2017.
5Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment/benefits.html. Accessed December 26, 2017.
Savor Health is a provider of personalized nutrition solutions designed exclusively for cancer patients based on evidence-based science and clinical best practices and provided by a team of oncology-credentialed registered dietitians.