Now that breast cancer treatment is over, it is a great time to eat healthy.  You may have always eaten healthy, or eating healthy may be a change for you.  A healthy diet can improve how you feel and increase your energy level.  Eating healthy is also something positive that you can do about your health.  Your risk of getting many health problems can be lowered by having a good diet.  Some of the long term effects from treatment may also be made better by a healthy diet.

Healthy eating involves three main guidelines:  Moderation, variety and balance.

Moderation means that you don’t eat too much or too little of any food.  You need food from each of the five food groups.  Your diet should never consist of only food from certain groups and no food from others.

Variety not only makes what you eat more interesting, but allows your body to get the different nutrients that are in different foods within a group.  For instance, if you eat many servings of the same fruit day after day, you may not be getting all the nutrients that you need.

Balance in your diet means that you eat moderate amounts of the foods from each group.  You should also aim to have the right amount of calories for how active you are.

There are five basic food groups.  A healthy diet for the average person should include these groups of food and about the amounts listed by each group.  If your weight is above or below average, the amounts will vary.  Also if you are very active or not active at all, this will affect how much from each group that you need.

The Five Food Groups are:
GRAINS:    6 oz each day
Grains include foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, barley, cornmeal or other grains.  Breads, pasta, cereals, and tortillas are in this group.  Try to get 3 oz of whole grain foods.  Whole wheat breads and brown rice have many potent antioxidants which have been linked to cancer prevention.

VEGETABLES:   2 ½ cups a day
Vegetables include 100% vegetable juice.  This group also includes raw, cooked, canned, frozen, fresh and dried vegetables.  In this group are green, orange, and starchy vegetables.  Also in it are dry beans and peas.
Two large studies suggest relationship between increased folate intake and decreased breast cancer risk. Some foods rich in folate are: Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, other dark green vegetables.

FRUITS:              1 ½ cups a day
Fruits include 100% fruit juice.  This group also includes fresh, canned, frozen and dried fruits. Eat different fruits and go easy on the juices.

MILK and DAIRY:                 3 cups a day
This group includes all of the liquid milk products and foods made from milk that keep their calcium.  Puddings, yogurt and cheeses are in this group.  Cream cheese, cream and butter are not.  Always go for the low fat or fat free and hormone free items in this group.

MEAT and POULTRY:          5 ½ oz a day
This group includes meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs, nuts and all foods that are made from them.  Lean, low fat cuts of meats are best.  Add more fish, beans, peas and nuts and go easy on the red meats.
As a breast cancer survivor, you want to make sure your diet includes plenty of low-fat protein such as cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), beans, nuts, and white meat chicken or turkey. Protein rebuilds muscle and tissue which is particularly important after undergoing chemo, surgery, and radiation. Protein also helps some medications work better.

OILS (FATS):                          less than 6 teaspoons a day
Some foods that fall into this group are oils, butter, margarine, nuts, animal fat and shortening.  Most of your intake from this group should come from fish, nut and vegetable oils.  Limit solid fats like butter and shortening, and consider using healthy alternatives such as olive oil.

Here are some other tips from the United States Department of Agriculture that may help you to eat healthier:

  • Make half your grains whole.
  • Vary your veggies.
  • Focus on fruit.
  • Get your calcium rich foods.
  • Go lean with protein.
  • Find your balance between food and physical activity.
  • Read nutrition labels!
  • If you are on a limited income consider buying produce in season when it’s cheaper, buying frozen fruits and vegetables, or gardening.

There are times when you will be eating out.  Plan ahead to allow for the meal.  Always avoid the “all you can eat” buffet.  If you have planned ahead and thought about where you will go and what might be a healthy choice there, chances are that you will eat healthier.  Here are some more tips from the US Department of Agriculture to help you when you plan to eat out:

  • Order an appetizer or side dish instead of an entrée.
  • Share a main dish with a friend.
  • Take leftovers home in a “doggy bag.”
  • The moment your food arrives, set aside half of it to take home.
  • Resign from the “clean your plate club” – when you have eaten enough, leave the rest.
  • Ask for your salad dressing on the side, so you can use only what you want.
  • Avoid ordering foods that have creamy sauces or gravies.
  • Add little or no butter to your food.
  • Choose fruits for dessert.
  • Order water to drink, or low fat milk or a drink without added sugar.
  • Order steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
  • Ask for whole wheat bread for sandwiches.
  • Start your meal with a salad packed with veggies, to help control hunger.
  • Use smaller plates.

When Do You Need To Seek Help?
Talk to your doctor or nurse when you are concerned.  Be sure to tell them if you have a personal or family history of weight problems.  Also let them know if you have had a rapid weight gain or loss.  This could be a symptom of a health problem that needs to be checked out.  They can also provide you with more advice about what you should to about your weight.

Useful websites:
Healthy eating: Tips for a healthy diet
Breast Cancer Organization: What does healthy eating mean? Nutrition
Breast cancer diet and nutrition manual
Young women with breast cancer and Nutrition/Weight Management
US Department of Agriculture –Food and Nutrition

Download PDF

< Return To Expert Answers