Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s, the winter holidays often involve friends, family and festive meals. If you’re currently going through cancer treatment, eating might not be the first thing on your mind. However, staying nourished during treatment is extremely important to your overall health, as the right foods food can give you the strength necessary to fight your cancer.
During this time, your body is going to need more fuel than normal, in order to repair rapidly from the effects of treatments such as surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Therefore, you’ll want to give your body a constant supply of nutrients, including calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.
Here are some tips about what to include—and what to avoid—in your diet over the holidays to help you stay strong and healthy.
Carbohydrates (carbs) provide fuel for your body and brain. Carbohydrates are found in many holiday foods from mashed potatoes to apple pie. Load up more on complex carbs and limit the simple kind.
- Simple carbs include processed flour and sugar products, like you’ll find in pies, holiday cookies and cakes.
- Complex carbs can be found in whole grains, whole fruits, beans and vegetables.
Add a fresh fruit salad for dessert and a salad course to fit these complex carbs into your holiday plans. Also, serve brown rice instead of white rice, as it contains cancer-fighting properties and dietary fiber.
Fats are another vital part of your diet. Many think that all fats are bad, but unsaturated fats are actually good for you. Focus on limiting or avoiding saturated fats and trans fatty acids.
- Saturated fats – These can be found in animal products—such as beef and poultry with the skin—which might be the centerpiece of your festive meal. No need to cut out meat altogether, just serve lean cuts of beef, skinless poultry and reduced fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Trans fatty acids – These are found in products that have been hydrogenated, such as shortening, some margarines and butter, baked goods and snack items. Your desert table is going to have a number of trans fatty culprits. Adding the aforementioned fruit salad option is one solution, and you can also try out some low-fat baking recipes.
- Unsaturated fats – This is what we call the “good fat.” Cook with olive oil and canola oil whenever possible, and also fill a bowl with almonds and nuts for a pre-meal snack. Adding an avocado to the salad can also add more good fats to your meal. Be careful not to go overboard, and make sure that you are still adhering to your recommended daily dose of fat and calories.
Protein is essential to your health, and is responsible for building your immune system, muscles, hormones and enzymes, and can also repair tissue. Work with a dietitian to estimate how much protein your body will need on a daily basis, especially if you are currently going through cancer treatment. Nuts, eggs, meat, fish, beans and legumes are all great sources of protein. Be sure to include some of these items in your holiday meal!
Sprinkle some of these “superfoods” into your diet this holiday season to help you stay healthy and nourished.
Yogurt – Skip the morning doughnut and try yogurt for breakfast instead. The active culture of bacteria in yogurt can help the immune system and with digestion. It also provides calcium, which may reduce the risk of colon cancer, strengthens bones and may help with maintaining a healthy weight. Many brands of yogurt offer enticing flavors such as key lime pie and strawberry shortcake, presenting a great way to get a healthy sweet fix.
Green and orange fruits and vegetables – Fruits and veggies like carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe have a powerful antioxidant known as carotenoids, which enhance the immune system and provides vitamin A. Try enjoying carrots in a low-fat, yogurt-based dip to add some calcium into the mix.
Citrus fruits – Citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons, have an antioxidant known as bioflavonoids, which can deliver an anti-carcinogenic effect. Use honey in your tea instead of sugar as another way to incorporate bioflavonoids.
Cruciferous vegetables – Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower increase the body’s production of important protective enzymes, which can make estrogen less harmful. Add a side dish with any of these veggies to your festive holiday meal.
Legumes – Dried beans, peas, lentils and other legumes provide you with fiber, folic acid, protein and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Beans can also be helpful if you are experiencing constipation from treatment. Try a warm lentil soup on a cold afternoon or a veggie taco night to add these into your diet.
Berries – All varieties of berries provide fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants such as anthocyanidin. Add berries to create a colorful fruit salad as a desert option.
Wild salmon – Fish is a great source of protein and heme iron. Wild salmon in particular also provides omega 3 fatty acids. If your family is tired of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, suggest wild salmon as an alternative.
Flax seeds – Adding flax to your diet gives you fiber, omega 3 fats and the antioxidant lignan. Sprinkle flax seeds onto your yogurt, or try some with cereal, oatmeal or homemade granola.
Brazil nuts – Fiber and selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, which are also a great source of protein. A dish of mixed nuts is the perfect appetizer before a festive meal, or an ideal treat to nosh on while visiting with friends and family.
Ginger – Another antioxidant, ginger may help support healthy digestive function, alleviate nausea and help with inflammation. Add ginger to your tea or bake a batch of ginger snap cookies for your next holiday celebration.