Hello Vegans and the City readers! I am so pleased to share todays post with you. It is a guest post written by Jillian McKee. Jillian has worked as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009, and spends most her time on outreach efforts and spreading information about the integration of complementary and alternative medicine when used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment. Read more about Jillian and her organization here.
Optimizing a Vegetarian Diet to Enhance Efficacy of Cancer Treatment
Nutrition is increasingly recognized as vitally important for patients undergoing cancer treatment. This was not always the case and nutrition is still downplayed in many clinics, while others are expanding nutrition services. There are several reasons for this change including research that shows proper nutrition can increase the efficacy of treatment, improve quality of life, and decrease the risk of recurrence in some of the most common forms of cancer.
In searching for an optimum diet, every patient has to realize there is not one best nutrition program for everyone. The first step is to see a professional dietitian and create a personalized nutritional profile. This will calculate foods eaten and show potential areas of deficiency and excess. Problems can be treated by changing your diet, taking supplements, or through blood analysis.
Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe During Cancer Treatment?
It is estimated that about 35 percent of cancers are directly related to dietary causes. Researchers have discovered vegetarian diets can prevent several forms of cancer, including prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers. The countless number of antioxidants and other phytochemicals in legumes, fruits, and vegetables are constantly being isolated for study of their potential in reducing the emergence of cancer cells and destroying cancerous tissue.
Intuitively it seems as though a vegetarian diet would prevent recurrence of the cancers it also prevents. This has been verified with recurrent prostate cancer and is under investigation with other forms. But is a vegetarian diet safe during any treatment protocol?
The simple answer is yes, but it carries a caveat. Just as treatments must be matched to the type of cancer, stage of development, and fitness level of the individual, these variables also need to be accounted for when creating any dietary plan. A plant-based diet contains all nutrients required by the body with the sole exception of vitamin B12, which is easily obtained through plants and supplements.
How Does Treatment Change Nutrition Requirements?
Treatments cause a number of symptoms that must be addressed. Loss of appetite is common from chemotherapy, a treatment used for many cancers including mesothelioma. During this time patients will require nutrient-dense foods to make up for reduced intake. Nuts and seeds, rice, and peanut butter are a few of the many vegetarian options. Dietitians can help in selecting foods to match other symptoms related to cancer or its treatment.
Are Some Vegetarian Foods Better Than Others?
Studies regularly show that specific vegetable or fruit compounds are especially effective at targeting a specific cancer. Garlic, for instance, has shown a special affinity for cancers of the digestive system. The anthocyanin in strawberries, blueberries, and other common berries has been shown to check cancer growth at a high enough concentration. Compounds found only in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to trigger premature death of cancer cells. The catechin in green tea has been proven to shrink tumors.
Obviously patients would do well to consult with their doctor and choose foods shown to help with their specific type of cancer. This has been made easier with increased accessibility of medical research. A vegetarian cannot live on garlic alone, however, and a few general rules can be used to achieve a sufficiently varied diet for optimum nutrition.
1. Always choose whole grain products over refined ones. An even better option is to buy whole grains in bulk and prepare them yourself. Brown rice porridge, for instance, has long been a breakfast staple in Asian hospitals and martial arts schools. Cooking the grain on very low heat for a long period of time keeps the beneficial enzymes intact and results in a more nutritionally dense meal. Cultures around the world have long used other grains for the same purpose, including oats, barley, wheat, millet and spelt. Some, such as quinoa, also constitute as protein.
2. Legumes are an excellent source of protein used to balance those found in grains. Beans, nuts, and legumes also improve iron absorption, which is very important for some individuals.
3. Choose an assortment of colors with fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. The pigments of these foods are often extremely potent antioxidants and phytochemicals.
4. Variety is more important than counting carbohydrates or other macronutrients. Seeds, legumes, nuts and other sources of fat should be added to every meal to ensure the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
A vegetarian diet can be used for positive effects during cancer treatment. As with any complimentary treatment protocol, there are general rules that must be augmented somewhat for each individual. A dietitian or other nutrition expert can help in creating a beneficial vegetarian diet for any cancer patient.