With the many winter holidays upon us, one of the great challenges is maintaining a healthy diet. Choosing healthier options helps many of us ward off extra pounds, but for those with cancer it is crucial to overall health.
If you are undergoing cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, you need extra nutrients to help maintain your energy and keep you feeling strong. Even if your appetite has waned, you still need to make good food choices that fuel your body and help you heal.
Many traditional holiday foods can be high in unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars which, when eaten in excess, can make you feel fatigued and miss out on nutrients vital for healing
Knowing what to eat and what to avoid can make the holiday season a healthy one for you. Follow the guidelines below to increase your intake of cancer-fighting nutrients, and keep you feeling your best this holiday season.
Fill one-fourth of your plate with complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential nutrients because they provide energy for body and brain. Good sources include whole grains (like oats, barley, farro, millet, and buckwheat), fruits, vegetables and beans. They also provide phytonutrients that offer cancer-fighting benefits and fiber to keep you fuller longer. Start by adding extra veggies to side dishes. Switch to whole-grain flour for baking your favorite holiday treats, try a bean dip or hummus with veggies as an appetizer, and include fresh fruits for dessert.
Choose healthy fats. Fat has been given a bad rap, but all fats are not equal. You want to avoid or limit saturated fats (the ones found in animal products like butter, cheese, and red meat) and trans-fatty acids (those that have been hydrogenated — often found in packaged foods and baked goods). Unsaturated fats are the good ones — olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish.
Include protein at every meal. Protein is important for healing during and after treatment. It also is essential for maintaining strength and energy. Choose a variety of plant sources, such as nuts and nut butters, seeds, beans, legumes, and soy. Good sources of animal proteins include grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, wild-caught fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy.
Emphasize “Seasonal” Superfoods. Superfoods are the superheroes of nutrition —many are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to help you heal and reduce inflammation, thus reducing your risk of chronic diseases and promoting cancer survivorship. Many superfoods are popular during the holidays — such as cruciferous vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), beans and legumes, citrus, sweet potatoes, nuts and mushrooms. Fresh cranberry sauce with orange and sweetened with agave or honey is an ideal choice to include in your holiday meals. Try adding antioxidant-rich pomegranate seeds to a kale salad for a festive starter, or warm up with pumpkin or butternut squash bisque. Sweet potatoes, baked or mashed, with a drizzle of pure maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon, make a healthy and delicious side dish. Green beans sautéed with mushrooms and red bell peppers, steamed broccoli with lemon zest and garlic, and roasted Brussels sprouts caramelized with balsamic vinegar are all foods to fill up on. And if you’ve saved room for dessert, top a scoop of vanilla ice cream or yogurt with blueberries or raspberries and a sprinkle of cacao nibs. Looking for something decadent? Bake an apple with cinnamon and nutmeg, and top it with chopped almonds or walnuts and maple syrup.
Remember: it is OK to have small portions of your favorite holiday foods, but fill most of your plate with a variety of plant-based foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
Make a conscious effort to focus on healthy options this holiday season that will keep you strong and help you fight cancer.