Summer is here, and that means fruits and veggies are ripe for the picking!

Whether your picking’s come from farmers markets, a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, fruit stands, or your own backyard garden, taking advantage of nature’s summertime bounty is a boon to both your taste buds and your health.

But you know that.

What you may not know, is exactly WHY fruits and veggies are a consistent recommendation for breast cancer nutrition, a recommendation that won’t be changing any time soon. In fact, research in support of adding more fruits and veggies to your breast cancer diet continues to steadily grow.

In my recent Facebook live video, I discussed the mechanism behind how nutrients and compounds in plant foods may help reduce risk of recurrence.  

In this post, I share plant-based nutrition science recommendations from updated breast cancer survivorship research released in May 2018, and inspire you to keep (or start) putting even more fruits and veggies on your plate!

The Role of a Plant-Based Diet After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

After a breast cancer diagnosis is confirmed, treatment, eradication of the tumor and survival become the focus. Even with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, this focus doesn’t change.

Often overlooked as a component of treatment is diet, and a consistent theme in my writing is how lax (with the exception of oncology dietitians, of course) the medical oncology team is in guiding patients on this topic.

I recognize that oncologists, breast surgeons and nurse navigators aren’t trained to provide nutritional guidance for breast cancer treatment (we RD’s have that great privilege). I also recognize that there are relatively few reliable studies on diet and survival after breast cancer. (1)

However, even with those limitations, physicians who advise newly diagnosed patients to “Eat anything you want. What you do or don’t eat won’t make a difference in whether it comes back or not.” is egregiously insensitive and blatantly incorrect (yes, a woman recently diagnosed shared with me that her doctor – who is no longer her doctor because she got herself a new one – said that).

The current (and ongoing) breast cancer nutrition research we DO have continues to support a plant-based diet for potentially reducing risk of recurrence, recommending meals be made up of two-thirds (⅔) or more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. (2)

If you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, the number one, absolute simplest dietary change you can make is to put more plants on your plate.

Period.

How to start?

Eat a fruit and/or veggie with every, single meal and snack, every, single day.

Let’s be honest. This is basic, not sexy, uncomplicated breast cancer diet advice. Some people think the more “woo-woo” the nutritional recommendation, the “better” it will work.  This recommendation is definitely NOT that.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is pretty simple and straightforward.

And that’s the beauty of it.

Especially now, when everything else about your treatment feels so complicated, so unpredictable and out of your control, it’s a relief how deliciously simple this guideline is to execute.

And execution is critical. This quote, “Knowledge without action is useless and irrelevant.” says it all. It’s one thing to KNOW you’ll benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, the actionable behavior that delivers the benefit is actually doing it.

Plant-Based Research Translated Into ACTION

The newest report on the global research indicates links between better survival after breast cancer and the following:

  1. Eat foods containing fiber.
  2. Eat a diet lower in fat, in particular, saturated fat.

Fruits and veggies are natural sources of fiber. Fiber is FILLING. You know how full you feel after eating a huge apple versus a mini chocolate bar (you go for the mini because you’re trying to save calories, right?)?

That’s the power of plant foods – they leave less space for higher fat/calorie foods by triggering that feeling of “satiety”. Not to mention, that mini-candy bar is gone in two bites. A huge, crunchy apple lasts much, much longer – satisfying your hunger on many levels.  

Some fruits and veggies have higher amounts of fiber than others, so include a wide variety (beans, dried peas and lentils are considered starchy veggies). Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day. (3)

    • High Fiber Sources (≥5 grams/serving)
      • Apples
      • Blackberries
      • Pears
      • Raspberries
      • Spinach
      • Lentils
      • Lima beans
    • Good Fiber Sources (≥2.5 grams but less than 5 grams/serving)
      • Artichoke
      • Bananas
      • Broccoli
      • Dates
      • Figs
      • Oranges
      • Sweet Potato
      • White beans

Fruits and veggies are naturally low in fat. With the exception of avocados, (technically a fruit), fruits and vegetables are naturally low-fat/fat-free. Calorie counts vary between fruits and vegetables, but also are naturally low. You’ll never find a 400 calorie orange, anywhere! Filling two-thirds of your plate with these low-fat beautires is a simple way to keep overall calories and fat from creeping too high.

We often lament the size of today’s enormous portion sizes, but never have I had to suggest someone cut back on their portion of say, cabbage. Loading your plate with all colors of the fruit and veggie rainbow reduces the need to monitor portions so closely, so load those plates up!

If you’re new to the idea of adding lots of fruits and veggies to your plate and looking for ideas, read this, a recent blog I wrote with inspirational pictures of gorgeous plant-based meals.

Do you have a favorite way to enjoy summertime fruits and veggies? Some time-tested, delicious recipe for anything from summer berries to zucchini? Please share – I’d love to know!

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Sources

  1. World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Survivors (pg. 6)
  2. American Institute for Cancer Research. A Model Plate For a Cancer Preventive Diet.
  3. Fruits and veggies more matters.