The arrival of the holiday season brings with it parties and family gatherings and that means you might find yourself surrounded by lots of food. But if you’ve been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, or undergoing cancer treatment, the last thing you want to partake in is holiday festivities.
No matter how you spend the holidays, healthy eating is critical to your overall health, especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Eating healthy meals chock full of nutrients can help strengthen your immune system, as well as help with fatigue from treatment. “We want all the same components that you'd want anybody to have [in] a balanced diet, modifying as needed to manage any signs, symptoms, [or intolerance] that they're having,” says Jeanette Lamb, a certified specialist in oncology nutrition at Nuvance Health in Poughkeepsie, New York.
It’s critical for cancer patients and survivors, particularly those going through chemotherapy or radiation, to maintain a balanced diet, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Healthy eating can help keep patients feeling the best they can, help control side effects to treatment, and boost energy, among other benefits. But this time of year, “can be a minefield,” with all the cakes, cookies, and other holiday treats surrounding you, Lamb says, and she advises cancer patients and survivors to be aware of what their health priorities are.
“You’re probably going to be surrounded by that toxic food environment,” Lamb says. “If this is what it’s like at your home, and this is what it’s like at your work, make sure that you’re going into these types of things with your own healthy eating plan.”
Consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory and high in fiber can reduce inflammation that can take a toll on your immune system and help manage weight, which can promote a better response to treatment and a lower risk of recurrence for cancer patients, according to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the CDC, respectively. For this holiday season, Lamb recommends filling your pantry with these anti-inflammatory, high-fiber seasonal foods:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Root vegetables (plants that grow underground and can be consumed, such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes)
And if you’re experiencing side effects from treatment, such as nausea, Lamb recommends opting for simple starches and foods that are more mild, such as dry toast or soup. “A broth is a good place to start, then you could add some plain noodles and lean meat, like cooked chicken,” Lamb says. You could also try chicken noodle or vegetable barley soup, she suggests. You could even try adding ginger to your diet, which can offer post-treatment nausea relief, cites John Hopkins Medicine. “And, I absolutely cannot emphasize enough how important it is, especially for someone who’s undergoing treatment, to be well hydrated,” Lamb says. “Feeling dehydrated will always make everything worse.”
If you, or someone you know, is a breast cancer survivor, or going through treatment, here are three holiday recipes, developed by Lamb, that you can try this season: