- Question from hockeymom: I'm currently in treatment for Stage IV breast cancer, I don't feel like eating anything. I know I need to keep up my strength and build up my immune system—what do you suggest?
This is a critical issue, because sometimes the treatment can affect quality of life. Eating a proper diet, and having an entire comprehensive program to promote health that includes physical activity and mind/body aspects, good diet, and supplementation can ease the burden of the side effects of therapy.
But we coined a phrase, "volume challenge." That means regular-sized portions may be too challenging. Some patients cannot eat the amount of food they optimally should. So our staff has developed smoothie recipes with concentrated nutrition, but in smaller quantities that can help build lean body mass. So I would recommend you consume something like a whey protein smoothie with oat or soy milk as a base, adding fresh fruit.
If calories are a challenge, there are some creative ways to increase them such as adding nut butters—MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Your body uses that as a preferred source of fuel, so it's an easy way to increase calories.
And we want to be careful about adding high Omega-6 fats, which may add fuel to the fire by increasing inflammation. There is a lot of literature about the links of Omega-6 oils with heart disease.
Cinnamon seems to be an appetite enhancer. Back to something Dave mentioned about protecting lean tissue—we do a body composition analysis. We watch to make sure that our patients, if they do lose weight, are not losing lean or muscle mass. You can do this through exercise, but also through the types of food you eat.
We watch that with our patients as they traverse this cancer recovery task to make sure that is protected. I was just talking with some patients about how sometimes when you're in chemotherapy, some of the whole grains like brown rice, while good for you, can feel heavy. Long-grain brown rice is fluffier and lighter than short grain brown rice. But there's also a grain called quinoa, (pronounced keen-wah). It is a wonderful grain because, first of all, it has a good protein profile with essential amino acids, so you get additional protein benefits along with the benefits of whole grain. Whole grains have B complex vitamins like pyridoxine, which is necessary for the immune system.
But quinoa cooks very light, and goes down light and easy, especially in these hot months or if your appetite isn’t big. It cooks in a very short time—10 minutes—and there are many foods that go well with this wonderful grain.
- Judith Sachs Appetite is sometimes stimulated by the environment in which you eat, so use a beautiful crystal glass for your smoothie. Setting the table with a candle and beautiful china can help. Also, use smaller plates for the smaller portions.
- Penny Block When someone's appetite is diminished, presenting a huge plate of food can be daunting and will send the appetite plummeting even more. So Dave counsels patients to eat small meals throughout the day instead of just a huge portion less frequently. But I love your idea of creating an atmosphere.
Quite often we have our patients embarking on a new diet plan, taste rules, and they don't want to lose out on the enjoyment of dining with others. Not only is the uptake of nutrition important, but we don't want achieving a good diet to be stressful. You should have a love of eating, not dreading your next meal.
Penny mentioned whey protein and the wonderful grain quinoa. There are some amino acids called branch chain amino acids. Out of the food known to us, whey protein is highest in these branch chain amino acids because it helps increase lean body mass.
There is some great research into Omega-3 oils that helps wasting syndrome that can happen with more advanced cancers. So we try to encourage eating foods high in Omega-3, or even fish oil supplements to enhance lean muscle tissue.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Buying Healthy Food and Drink featured Penny B. Block, M.A., David W. Grotto, R.D., L.D., and moderator Judith Sachs answering your questions about finding, buying, and preparing the healthiest food and drink for people with breast cancer and their families.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in July 2005.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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