Nutrition for Prostate Cancer Patients
If you have been told by your doctor that you have prostate cancer, you may have questions about how you can improve your eating habits. You may also think that the cancer was caused by the type of diet that you have had in the past. Doctors and researchers do not yet know exactly what causes prostate cancer, but there are some recommendations that you may want to know about that can help you during and after your prostate cancer treatment.
There is accumulating evidence that specific foods that you eat may have a role in preventing prostate cancer, and if you already have cancer, there may be diet changes that you can make that will help prevent a recurrence.
Diet During Prostate Cancer Treatment
During prostate cancer treatment, you may experience side effects that will make it difficult to eat a balanced diet. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you manage your diet while you have these side effects.
Following a well-balanced diet will help you to consume enough nutrients to:
- prevent or reverse nutritional deficiencies
- decrease the side effects of both prostate cancer and its treatments
- optimize the quality of your life
First, a balanced diet is one that gives you enough energy to maintain your weight. When you are healthy, this is not a problem. However, with a prostate cancer diagnosis, stress can cause you to eat too much or eat too little. Sometimes the medications you are given can cause side effects that decrease your appetite or create other problems with eating. One thing is certain though; you will need to eat well to keep up your strength during your prostate cancer treatment. Attention to the basics of good nutrition is a starting point. Always tell your doctor about any side effects that you are having during your treatment.
Eat Plenty of Protein
Men with prostate cancer will need to include plenty of protein in their diet. Protein is needed by all of the cells in the body in order to grow, to repair and to protect the function of the immune system. If you have too little protein your body may not heal as it should during treatment. Also, your immune system may not protect you from infections if your diet is too low in protein. Good sources of protein include eggs, fish, chicken, beef, nuts, peanut butter, dried beans, peas and soy foods.
Good Carbohydrates are Essential
Carbohydrates give the body the energy supply needed to help it function at its best. Starches and sugars are the two forms of carbohydrates. Starches include corn, peas, bread, whole grains such as barley, oats, and wheat, pasta, cereals, rice, potatoes, and some squashes. Sugars come from fruits, milk, honey, maple syrup, table sugar, and sweets like cake, cookies, and pies. Some people may believe that “sugar feeds cancer” and that all sugars should be avoided, but this is only part true. Sugar feeds all cells in the body and your body and brain need sugar to function well. However, eating foods that are the least processed, like fresh fruit and low fat milk or yogurt with lower total carbohydrate content, are good sources of sugars that the body needs. Cakes, cookies, pies, and other treats may be homemade and “wholesome,” but the white sugar content in these foods is high and you should try to keep these foods to a minimum. Generally, the less processing the food has had, the more healthful it is. So look for foods that are in their most natural state.
Monounsaturated Fat is Better Fat
Fat is the densest source of calories in our diet. There are 9 calories for every gram of fat. In comparison, carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram. Some forms of fat are better than others. For example, the fat from almonds, which is a monounsaturated fat, is a much better fat for the body than the saturated fat from bacon, cheese, or hard-packed ice cream. Limiting or eliminating saturated fat from the diet, which means reducing high-fat cuts of meat (just look for the marbling—that indicates a high fat meat) and high-fat dairy foods, like butter or ice cream, will assist in getting the nutrients your body needs without consuming artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. Focusing on getting healthy fat from olive and canola oils, nuts in small amounts, and fatty fish goes a long way in helping you to get powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that fight cancer without increasing your risk for other diseases.
Alcohol is Empty Calories
Most people do not consider alcohol to be a “food group,” but if you consume alcohol regularly, understanding the nutrition profile of alcohol can help you understand its benefit, as well as its disadvantage to overall health. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, which is nearly as high as fat. A 12-ounce beer has about 170 calories while a 4- ounce glass of wine has about 120 calories. With the exception of trace minerals and phytochemicials (phyto means plant), alcohol does not contain vitamins and minerals. In other words, it is empty calories. Consuming too much alcohol is one way that packs on the pounds. Researchers believe that being overweight or obese increases a man’s risk for prostate cancer and recurrence of prostate cancer. It is also important to always tell your doctor about how much alcohol you are drinking, especially if you are receiving treatment for prostate cancer.
Androgen (Hormone) Deprivation Therapy
One of the treatments that your doctor may prescribe is called androgen deprivation therapy, or ADT. ADT is a treatment for prostate cancer that reduces the production or effect of androgen hormones, such as testosterone, on which many prostate cancers depend. ADT may affect your appetite and your muscle mass. Some men will lose too much weight while others may become obese, particularly around the midsection. This medication can also cause bone and muscle loss, making it difficult to continue to do the things that you enjoy if you lose strength and stamina. By following a diet that gives you energy balance, and eating enough calories to support your activities to prevent weight gain or loss, you can keep your body healthy. Your doctor may also ask you to take a multivitamin, plus calcium and vitamin D supplements to support your bone health. If weight loss is too great, you may need to drink a nutritional supplement, such as Carnation Instant Breakfast, Ensure, or Boost in order to get enough energy or calories to maintain a healthy weight.
Some men taking androgen deprivation therapy medications may also experience high cholesterol, high triglycerides or both. In this case, your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian to help you follow a diet that will lower cholesterol and triglycerides, while also prescribing a medication to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Dietary Supplements – Tell Your Cancer Team
It is important to tell your doctor about any medications you are taking, but it is equally important to keep your medical team informed about herbal or dietary supplements you are taking, too. Nettle extract, pygeum, and saw palmetto have been found to be somewhat beneficial for benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH, an enlargement of the prostate ,which often blocks the flow of urine. However, these herbs do not provide benefit for the treatment of prostate cancer. Folic acid, which is the supplement form of folate, has been shown to increase the risk for prostate cancer, while folate from food does not pose this same risk. Some studies have shown that calcium supplementation may increase a man’s risk for prostate cancer, but food sources such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are safe for men to consume without the increased risk. There are ongoing studies focusing on pomegranate, soy, Omega 3 fatty acids, and other supplements as they relate to prostate cancer prevention. You should make a point of talking with your doctor about any supplements that you are taking while receiving treatment for prostate cancer.