What is healthy eating?
Healthy eating is about balancing your food intake to make sure you get plenty of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrain breads, and cereals. It’s also about cutting back on the not-so-healthy foods like sugars, salt and saturated fats. With healthy eating, you can continue to enjoy treats in moderation.
In the long term, healthy eating combined with regular exercise can improve your overall health, quality of life and reduce your risk of developing other illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
You may hear about ‘special diets’ for people diagnosed with cancer, however there is no scientific evidence that women diagnosed with breast cancer need to follow a special diet or eat particular foods to prevent the cancer returning. It is recommended that women with breast cancer follow the same dietary guidelines that are recommended for all Australian adults. These guidelines can be found in BCNA’s Healthy eating and breast cancer booklet or at eatforhealth.gov.au.
Tips for a healthy diet
Most health practitioners recommend a balanced diet which includes:
- plenty of vegetables, fruit and legumes. Aim for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day.
- cereals, preferably wholegrain, including bread, rice, pasta and noodles.
- Some lean meat, fish, and poultry – try to eat fish 2–3 times a week, and limit your intake of red meat to 500g a week.
- fat reduced dairy foods including milk, yoghurt, and cheese – try to consume around three servings of calcium-rich food daily.
- plenty of water – try to drink around eight 250ml glasses daily (a total of around 2L).
It is also recommended that you cut back on:
- foods high in saturated fat and salt, such as fatty meats, take-away food, salty snacks, and cakes.
- food and drink high in sugar like biscuits, fruit juice, and soft drink.
- alcohol – There is convincing evidence that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, however it is not clear whether alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer recurring (coming back). Cancer Australia recommends avoiding alcohol consumption or limiting daily alcohol intake to reduce cancer risk. If you do drink alcohol, women are recommended to limit their alcohol intake to no more than one standard drink each day to reduce cancer risk; for men, the recommendation is no more than two standard drinks a day.
Nutrition during treatment
Some breast cancer treatments can bring on nausea or change the way food tastes or smells. Many people find that the foods they once enjoyed are no longer desirable, while other foods have become more appealing.
Eating a healthy diet during this time is especially important and will help ensure your body has what it needs to function better and recover from treatment. Throughout your breast cancer treatment, try to ensure that your diet is as healthy as you can manage. Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect, but do the best you can.
If you’re undergoing breast cancer treatment and it is affecting your appetite, you might like to think about implementing a healthy eating plan into your day.
Eating a healthy diet during and after your breast cancer treatment will help your body get what it needs to repair cells. It will also help you function better.
Avoid drastic diet changes
Some people choose to make drastic changes to their diet after a breast cancer diagnosis. To date, there is no scientific evidence that people with breast cancer need a ‘special’ diet or that eating particular foods will prevent the cancer recurring.
Radical changes to your diet may affect your energy levels and may lead to dietary deficiencies. If you do want to change your diet significantly, talk to your GP or consult a dietitian.
Managing advice from others
After a diagnosis of cancer, some people notice that people around them provide advice on different issues, including what they think you should be eating or drinking to supposedly improve your health. Some people can be quite forceful with their advice. People tend to provide advice because they care about you. However, if it is not helping you or is causing you distress, try telling them that their advice is not helpful. If you feel uncomfortable telling them directly, ask someone else to speak with them for you.
It is common to gain weight after a breast cancer diagnosis. The most common reason for weight gain is that your energy intake may higher than your energy output. This may be a result of:
- early onset menopause from your treatment
- a side effect of your treatment
- reduced physical activity because of fatigue.
Putting on weight during breast cancer is normal and it’s important that you are kind to yourself during this time. If your weight gain is worrying you and you want to lose a few kilos, the safest and most effective way is to do it gradually. Aim to lose no more than 1kg a week. Try to:
- eat a healthy well-balanced diet
- participate in regular moderate-intensity exercise.
It’s also a good idea to speak with your doctor or an accredited practicing dietitian if you want to lose some weight.
Who should I see for help?
You can seek professional advice from an accredited practicing dietitian (APD), who are qualified professionals who can provide practical, personal nutrition advice. You may be eligible for a GP Care Plan or rebates through your health insurance to help pay for these services. Find a dietitian in your area.
BCNA has developed two booklets in consultation with people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. These booklets are designed to help you have a healthy lifestyle.
Our Healthy eating and breast cancer booklet explains the benefits of eating well and provides practical tips on eating well during and after your treatment. It also includes information on some of the common myths about diet and breast cancer. Our Healthy eating and breast cancer booklet has also been translated into Traditional Chinese and is available to download here.
Our Exercise and breast cancer booklet has lots of practical information on exercise and weight loss, including when you can start exercising, how much exercise is enough, what types of exercise might suit you, and tips on staying motivated.
For more information on healthy eating and breast cancer, you might like to:
- Cancer Council's booklet, Nutrition and Cancer, has been prepared to help gain an understanding of nutrition and dietary requirements during and after cancer treatment. You can download or order it online here.
- Eat for Health website is a government website that provides up to date advice about the types and amounts of foods that we need to eat for health and wellbeing. The recommendations are based on the latest research. The website also includes detailed information about the Australian Dietary Guidelines, advice and healthy recipes plus much more.
- Nutrition Australia's website contains nutrition-related news, information resources and recipes to help Australians maintain a healthy diet.
- The Victorian Government's Better Health Channel website is a trusted source of health and medical information.
- Dietitians Association Australia's website contains information on eating well, including recipes. It allows you to search for an accredited practicing dietitian.