Firefly Sisterhood knows how important a holistic approach to healing is, and nutrition, in particular, plays a vital role in health. We are fortunate that Brianna Elliott, registered dietician at Open Arms of Minnesota has offered to share her significant knowledge with us. In part 1 of her blog series, she discussed the importance of consuming a nutrient-dense diet, as well as limiting inflammation-causing foods. In this post, Brianna discusses calories, protein, and sugar, and the role they play in a healthy diet, whether or not one has faced a breast cancer diagnosis.
Adequate calorie and protein intake is important for everyone, especially cancer survivors, and sugar is a confusing ingredient because it’s found both naturally in food, as well as added to it. I’ll focus on these items in Part 2 to help clear up confusion around calories, protein, and sugar so you can move past the misconceptions and better your nutrition!
Calories and Protein
Of course, everyone is different: all cancer patients and survivors have unique energy and nutritional needs. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to calories.
That being said, it’s beneficial to fuel your body with enough calories sourced from nutrient-dense foods, like those that were mentioned in part 1. Most important is to concentrate on creating a balanced diet that includes a variety of healthy foods. A rule of thumb is to fill your plate with foods that contain all three of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat).
Another important aspect of calorie consumption is to eat foods in reasonable, healthy portions. A great way to stay on track is to listen to your body’s hunger cues: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re nearly full. On some days you may need more food than others, which is perfectly normal. For example, on days when you’re active, you may notice that you feel hungrier than on less active days.
When preparing meals, it’s also important to make sure they contain enough protein. Protein helps preserve and rebuild muscle mass that may be lost during cancer treatment. Animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, are rich in protein, but you can also meet your needs with plant foods, including nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and many vegetables. A general recommendation is to consume 20-30 grams of protein at each meal.
The same guideline is true for protein as it is for calories in that we don’t all require the same amount. If you’re looking for personalized recommendations, it may be helpful to reach out to a dietitian who can help determine your specific needs.
More on Sugar…
In part 1, I mentioned limiting added sugar in your diet. Excess sugar can be highly inflammatory. It often leads to weight gain and may increase your risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Research is mixed when it comes to sugar’s exact role in cancer development and recurrence, and there are a few myths. A common misconception is that sugar feeds cancer cells. Glucose (sugar) actually feeds all cells in the body: it provides the energy we need to function properly. Problems arise when we consume more sugar than our body can process. This can develop into a condition known as insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and is thought to possibly contribute to abnormal cell development in the body.
Sugar occurs naturally in a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. What you want to watch out for is added sugar. Sugar is added to a number of products as a preservative and to improve taste. When grocery shopping, be a sugar detective and make an effort to read ingredient lists. Sugar is most commonly added to items like packaged cookies and other baked goods, candy, and sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, and fruit juice. It’s often added to some not-so-obvious items, too, like bread, yogurt, salad dressing, pasta sauce, and other condiments. To make things even more confusing, there are many different names for sugar that are used in ingredient lists. Some common ones are high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, honey, maple syrup, and agave. Just because you don’t see the word “sugar” listed doesn’t mean there isn’t any in that food. Check out this website for a list of 61 different names for sugar.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women. Many Americans consume much more than this. To put this into perspective, one can of regular coke has 39 grams of sugar! If you want to keep your sugar intake at bay, try to focus your diet around whole, nutrient-dense foods that were mentioned in part 1. Remember that you don’t need to avoid sugar completely. Just be mindful of how much is in your diet and cut back if necessary.
I hope this series of blog posts answered some of your nutrition questions and dispelled some myths. If you have further questions, please leave a comment below or on Firefly Sisterhood’s Facebook page. You can also email me with any nutrition-related questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s to great nutrition and health for all of us!