Firefly Sisterhood is delighted to have Brianna Elliott, Registered Dietitian for Open Arms Minnesota, contribute some of her vast knowledge with us as our guest blogger this week. Thank you, Brianna, for sharing such valuable information!
Two Steps to Good Nutrition for Breast Cancer Survivors
As a Registered Dietitian for Open Arms of Minnesota, I am able see upfront the positive impact that nourishing food can have on health and quality of life. For our clients, the meals we provide are more than just food; they are nourishment, hope, and healing.
About 14% of the clients we serve at Open Arms have been diagnosed with breast cancer, which is where our partnership with Firefly Sisterhood comes into play. I am honored to be invited to contribute my passion for nutrition to their blog. While there is no single food or nutrient that can prevent or cure illness, healthy behaviors can certainly lead to better health outcomes. In this series of blog posts, I will highlight some key components of what a healthy lifestyle might look like for cancer survivors.
Step One: Think Nutrient Density
The standard American diet is often full of highly processed and refined junk foods that don’t do a lot for our bodies nutritionally. Instead of purchasing these types of items at the grocery store, focus most of your time in the produce section where you can find plant-based foods that your body craves. Fill your cart with mostly vegetables, along with fruits, nuts/seeds, legumes, and other plant-based foods. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 5 servings of vegetables daily.
If meat and poultry are part of your eating pattern, I recommend choosing animals that were fed well nutritionally and raised humanely. Meat and poultry can be an excellent source of protein and other nutrients, but it’s important to know where your food is coming from to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your nutritional buck. Grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken and eggs are an optimal go-to. Finding quality food like this can take a little bit of digging, but you can find a local farm that raises and feeds their animals this way by clicking here. Many of the farms listed on this website have booths at local Twin Cities farmers’ markets.
Eggs are an inexpensive and superb source of nutrition, as they contain highly available protein that our bodies can use efficiently. In addition, eggs have an excellent nutrient profile, consisting of just about every vitamin and mineral that our bodies need to function.
Following an eating pattern that includes the nutrient-dense foods listed above can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting started. One way to make it easier is to ask yourself this question before making a food choice: “How is this food going to nourish my body?” Foods rich in nutrients and antioxidants will support your body’s functions and help reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been shown to increase risk for cancer development and recurrence. The good news is that plant-based, whole, and real foods have anti-inflammatory compounds that can come to the rescue when illness tries to take over. .
Step Two: Limit Inflammation-Causing Foods
Research has shown that chronic inflammation in the body can play a role in disease. You will naturally eat more anti-inflammatory foods when you focus on nutrient dense foods, but some not-so-healthy foods can still sneak into your diet. The foods listed below can contribute to inflammation in the body when consumed in excess, so try your best to avoid them when possible.
1 – Foods and beverages high in added sugar: I will go into more detail on sugar in a future blog post, so hold tight for more information on this topic. For now, limit sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice), candy, cookies, sugary baked goods, and many packaged/boxed snacks.
2 – Processed meat: It has been well-documented that excess amounts of processed meat can be carcinogenic. Minimize your consumption of hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats, etc. If you want to have them occasionally, choose an uncured version, which can be found in most grocery stores.
3 – Refined grains: White pasta, white bread, buns, and rolls…these foods contain little nutrition and can lead to inflammation in the body due to their ability to raise blood sugar levels too quickly. Fill up on fiber-rich fruits and veggies instead. When you opt for bread and pasta, go for a whole-grain version.
4 – Vegetable oils: These are often processed at high temperatures, which damages the oil and can lead to inflammation in the body. To make things even more challenging, vegetable oils are found in most packaged items on grocery store shelves. This is just another reason to focus most of your shopping in the produce section! It’s also important to refocus your thinking about fats. No, you don’t need to avoid all fats. It’s best to include fats from minimally processed foods, such as salmon, olive oil, avocado, flaxseed, chia seed, and other nuts/seeds in your diet. Replace vegetable oils like canola, safflower, cottonseed, soybean, and corn oil with these types of foods. Healthy fats support brain and heart health. They also work to keep us full, manage blood sugar levels, and lubricate our joints.
Bottom Line: Opt for the majority of your diet to be made up of whole, nourishing foods. Your food should be the ingredient, not have multiple ingredients [Of course, there are exceptions to this, but it’s a great idea to keep in mind!].
I hope this gives you helpful insight into a few ways you can use nutrition as a way to nourish and heal your body. Remember, it’s never too late to improve your eating habits. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. I like to say, “Just eat real food.” It can be as simple as that!
Stay tuned for my next piece, which will focus on sugar and protein as they relate to a healthy diet, whether or not one has faced cancer. If you have additional questions or are interested in the services we provide at Open Arms, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me: (firstname.lastname@example.org).