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Healthy eating

Is your breast cancer treatment affecting your appetite?

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.

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.

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 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 and reduce your risk of developing other illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

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 – it is recommended that you avoid alcohol if possible, or aim for no more than one standard drink a day. Alcohol can be harmful to your health. The more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk. Even small amounts of alcohol are associated with increased risk of some cancers.

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 an APD in your area.

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 specialists and consult a dietitian.

Weight

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.

Helpful resources

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 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.

More information

For more information on healthy eating and breast cancer, you might like to:

  • Contact the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 for a copy of the Cancer Council's booklet on eating well during cancer treatment.
  • Visit www.nutritionaustralia.org, a website that contains nutrition-related news, information resources and recipes to help Australians maintain a healthy diet.