Breast Cancer: Nutrition & Self Care

This month you will see lots of pink ribbons, runs, walks, screening and fundraising which is awesome.  But we thought it might be nice to take our focus from global to local and more specifically, to an individual level and provide some nutrition and self-care tips for those in treatment. (This post focuses on those in treatment, following posts will look at nutrition and self care following treatment and for caregivers).  

Nutrition and self-care for treatment

It’s no secret that many treatment options have side effects that may impact your desire to eat including nausea, vomiting, and mouth sores.  It can be hard to muster up the strength to eat let alone make a meal but eating a balanced diet can help your body better heal in between treatments, keep you at a healthy weight and even help to preserve muscle mass.  

So here are a few tips to make it a bit easier for when the going gets rough.  

  • Stock Your Pantry

  1. Fruit and Vegetables: Keep fruit and veggies on hand - the more colors the better, as they contain phytochemicals that can aid in the healing process.  Frozen fruits and veggies (without added sugar, salt and sauces) make for a quick addition to meals and smoothies to ensure that you can get in your 5 servings a day.  

  2. Whole grains: 100% whole grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, and farro that are high in fiber should be a staple of meals.  The fiber in these grains can help minimize constipation that can occur from certain cancer treatment drugs.  Aim for 25-30g of fiber a day.

  3. Protein: Protein is important for the maintenance of muscle mass.  Having beans, legumes, nut butters, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna on hand as well as lean meat choices like chicken and turkey.

  4. Hydration: Ensure adequate intake of hydrating beverages including water.  Have a glass on hand for the start of the day and ensure you aim for at least 2 to 3 liters of water, fruit juice or other caffeine-free drinks a day.  You an add in fruits, lemons, limes to jazz up your hydration game. Or if your stomach is upset you can consider an herbal tea with ginger or peppermint.  If your mouth and throat hurt from treatment you can also drink smoothies or other supplemental beverages to help you better meet your hydration and nutrition needs.  

Fruits & Veggies

Fruits & Veggies

Alternative Protein Sources

Alternative Protein Sources

Fancy Hydration

Fancy Hydration

  • Can’t make it to the store, see if your groceries can be delivered, check local stores or online options.  Also see if you are eligible for meal services like Meals on Wheels or check in the with American Cancer Society for options near you. Since Amazon Prime and Whole Foods have partnered up, there’s lots of nutritious options you can find at value prices. Fresh Direct’s KickStart also offers delivered fully prepped meals as well as locally sourced farm boxes loaded with fresh produce.

  • Go slow with high fat foods including red meat, sweets, and heavily processed foods.

  • Limit alcohol as it can interact with cancer treatment.

  • Consider cold foods as they have less smell and may be more appetizing to those with nausea and vomiting.  

  • Shrink meal sizes and eat more frequently.  Side effects from treatment can lead to all sorts of unpleasant feelings including nausea, bloat and constipation which in turn can limit your appetite and make it difficult to get in the nutrients you need.  Instead of your typical eating pattern, aim for 5 to 6 smaller meals or snacks and add in high calorie foods like nut butters and avocado to better help you meet your energy needs. Make every bite count.

  • Ensure adequate protein intake as this is necessary for your body to repair and create new cells.  

  • Be cautious with food preparation.  Cancer treatment often means you may have a lowered immunity make you more susceptible to infection.  For this reason it is important to ensure that your foods are washed properly and cooked to a safe temperature. Steering away from raw foods like sushi that increase risk for food poisoning is highly recommended.

  • Plan and prepare ahead.  Treatment days and the ones that follow often make it difficult, if not impossible, to find the energy to create meals.  If possible, plan ahead so you can better stick to healthy eating following treatment, meal prep in the days before or have easy to prepare ingredients on hand.  Better yet, if you have friend and family that love to cook, hit them up for some meals and have them stock your fridge/freezer.

  • Change up your utensils.  Sometimes treatment can leave a metallic taste in your mouth.  If this rings true for you, consider using plastic forks, spoons and the like and cooking with glass pots and pans.

The Wellthy Plate - Hierarchy of Self Care

The Wellthy Plate - Hierarchy of Self Care

  • Self-care.  Find activities you enjoy be it reading, crafts, journaling, listening to podcasts, or spending time with loved ones. Try to fit in some sleep and movement as tolerated and practice kindness to yourself and your body.  And finally, don’t forget to consider nutrition as an important pillar of self-care along your treatment journey. Take the time to nourish yourself, inside and out, as best you can. It is ok to ask for help when you need it.  Often times friends and family aren’t sure how to best help you and would love a little direction from you. Have them help with the cooking, shopping, and food prep in order to give you time to focus on you.


American Cancer Society

American Institute for Cancer Research

The Cleveland Clinic