Nutrition for Prostate Cancer Patients

Chances are that since you have been told by your doctor that you have prostate cancer, you may wonder what you can do to improve your eating habits.  You may also think that you may have caused cancer by the type of diet that you currently follow. 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 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.

DURING TREATMENT

Following a well-balanced diet will help you to consume enough nutrients to:

  • prevent or reverse nutritional deficiencies
  • decrease the side effect of cancer and the 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. With a cancer diagnosis, there can be reasons for not maintaining a healthy diet. 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.

PROTEIN

Your diet will need to include protein, which is needed for growth, repair, and immune system function. All of the cells in the body need protein to grow, to repair and to protect the immune function. If you have too little protein your body may not heal and repair as it should during treatment.  Your immune system may not protect you from infections if your diet is too low in protein.  Good sources of protein are eggs, fish, chicken, beef, nuts, peanut butter, dried beans, peas and soy foods.

CARBOHYDRATES

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 like 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.  While some may believe that “sugar feeds cancer” and that all sugars should be avoided, this statement is only part true.  Sugar feeds all cells in the body and your body and brain need sugar to function well. With that said, 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 shouldaim to keep these foods to a minimum.  Generally, the less processing the food has had, the more healthful it is.  So aim for foods that are in their most natural state.

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 our 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

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. 

A few more things…..

One of the medications that your doctor may prescribe, called androgen deprivation therapy, 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.  Following a diet that gives you energy balance, or eating enough calories to support your activities to prevent weight gain or loss, is one of the best things that you can do to 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.

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, but 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.

During treatment, you may experience side effects to the treatment 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. 

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