In this week’s guest blog, Nikki Bednall provides her top tips for eating healthily after cancer. Nikki works as a Senior Systems Analyst at The University of Nottingham and volunteers as a Community Champion and Fundraiser for Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now.
If you’re feeling a bit lost when it comes to nutrition after cancer treatment then look no further. This is quite common. I found it hard to not obsess over food at this point, as it was the only control I had over what went into my cells. Though this may sound borderline “eating disorder” there is scientific evidence that eating healthier food is better for us.
It may sound obvious but when you try putting this into practice it can be a bit of a minefield: eating in a hurry, temptations in supermarkets, finding healthy restaurants, eating on holiday. Our choices have to start by design of what we put on our shopping list and how well we prepare in advance so we can walk unbridled into healthy eating. We all have different preferences so there is never a “one size fits all” but here are a few simple daily suggestions to up your game:
- Avoid alcohol and consider alcohol-free beer and wine instead (if you enjoy alcohol maybe consider having your favourite once a month as a treat)
- Avoid foods which increase cholesterol and triglycerides, for example, fatty meat, butter, cream, ghee, milk chocolate, cheese, hydrogenated oils, sugar, white flour (consider low fat alternatives, olive oil and soya; according to WebMD, 50g of soya per day can help lower your cholesterol by 3%).
- Avoid foods/drinks high in sugar, for example, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice, cakes with icing on and biscuits. Whole fruit, whole grain banana loaf, herbal tea, green tea and lemon slices added to water are healthier choices.
- Avoid refined/processed foods as these contain empty calories, for example, foods with added salt and sugar such as white flour, white rice and preservatives
- Make half of your intake fruit and vegetables (Mediterranean “rainbow” diet) for example, try making a “Buddha” bowl or a fattoush salad or fruit salad as these give lots of flexibility. There are loads of recipes and ideas online.
- Make a quarter of your intake whole-grains (brown rice, buckwheat, oats, barley, quinoa, whole wheat and whole rye). This increases your daily fibre as well as being good nutrition.
- Make a quarter of your intake low fat protein (peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, tofu, soya, nuts, low-fat or plant-based milk, low-fat or plant-based yoghurt, seafood and poultry)
- Know your biggest junk food risk time (for example, perhaps it’s a 4pm slump) and be prepared for it with healthy snacks like humous, celery, nuts, dried fruit, a wholewheat bagel with almond butter and slices of banana.
- If you have a bad day, compensate the next day with a healthy day and get back on track. Don’t beat yourself up and repeatedly go back to day 1. Diet mentality doesn’t work. You are human and that’s ok. It’s the overall cumulative effect that counts.
Cancer is slowly gaining recognition as a metabolic disease. Making healthier choices is the best risk-reducer for cancer and also reduces your risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes which may await your arrival further down the road. You’ll also increase your energy levels to keep yourself motivated to exercise regularly. If, like me (this a personal choice and I’m not saying that you should do this) you choose to avoid all animal products you will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. There is some evidence that vitamin D3 is also beneficial. If you’re still in treatment then I suggest that you check with your oncologist before taking any supplements.
I could go on about the benefits of polyphenols, flavonoids and catechins but I want to get a simple message across: if you have two choices, pick the healthiest of the two. If you do this every day, you’ll soon up your game and form new habits without the mental burden. That’s what I did and though I’m not perfect, I feel I’ve developed healthier habits over time. For further information and useful suggestions check out my “Malnutrition” thread at lifeafterlola.com
Nikki was diagnosed with stage 3 ER/PR+ HER2- breast cancer in March 2017 (No Evidence of Disease after Chemotherapy, Surgery, Radiotherapy and Endocrine therapy) and writes her own blog to support others at lifeafterlola.com
Professional Diploma in Nutrition and Disease from Wageningen University
FHT Diploma in Physiology and Anatomy
Certificate in Complimentary Therapy
MHFA Mental Health First Aid trained
BSc (Hons) in Computer Information Systems