There is no shortage of information on nutrition and food for cancer survivors online. I have read posts by cancer survivors singing the praises of everything from juice fasting to the acid/alkaline diet. It’s wonderful when people are able to use nutrition and food to help them stay strong, positive and help them heal along a difficult journey. However, what works for one person isn’t always the best option for everyone. While there may be benefits to some of these trends, some of them could be harmful when taken to the extreme.
In this series of posts, let’s take a look at some of the most popular diet trends for cancer survivors and what’s good and not-so-good about them. First up – juicing.
What is juicing?
Raw fruits and vegetables are put through a juicer to remove all of the pulp (fibre) and leave only the carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Some websites suggest that drinking fresh juice instead of eating whole foods is easier on the digestive system and helps your body rest and heal. Some juicing enthusiasts claim that more nutrients are absorbed from raw vegetables compared to cooked vegetables.
- Fresh juices can fit into a healthy diet. They can help you get more phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals if you have a small appetite and aren’t able to handle the bulk of fruit and vegetables. Juicing can also be helpful if you are trying to limit the fibre in your diet but don’t want to miss out on the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.
- Juicing can be a helpful way to meet the recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruit for good health, especially if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing solid foods
- Juicing should not be used as a meal replacement or as your only source of nutrition, because this will put you at risk of nutrient deficiency and loss of lean muscle mass. By consuming only juice, your diet will be low in important nutrients such as protein, fat, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12.
- Juicing removes the fibre from fruits and vegetables, which is needed for a healthy digestive system, to prevent constipation, and to prevent colorectal cancer. Fibre is also essential to help prevent and manage diabetes and heart disease.
- Removing the fibre means you are left with only carbohydrates or sugar. Without any fibre, fat or protein to slow it down, this sugar will enter your bloodstream quickly, causing a blood sugar spike. This will trigger a large release of insulin to help the sugar travel into your cells. It is best to avoid these quick rises and drops in blood sugar to maintain your energy levels and for diabetes prevention and weight control.
- The idea that all vegetables should be eaten raw is a myth. In fact, some of the most powerful cancer-fighting nutrients are made more available by cooking. For example, lycopene is a plant chemical found in tomatoes that has been shown to reduce risk of prostate cancer. The other issue is that lycopene and some of the other nutrients in fruit and vegetables are better absorbed when eaten with a small amount of fat. All the more reason to make a delicious tomato sauce with olive oil.
The bottom line:
- Don’t miss out on fibre. Aim to eat 5 servings of whole fruits and vegetables first. Once you meet that goal, you can add juicing as a strategy to get extra servings. If you are on radiation treatment or chemotherapy, check with your doctor or dietitian before adding juicing to your routine.
- Use mostly vegetables with some fruit for sweetness if you are watching calories or sugar intake.
- Try blending fruit or vegetables into a smoothie as a way to include the fibre (if tolerated)
- Have with some protein and a bit of healthy fat with your juice for staying power. A handful of nuts or a cup of Greek yogurt are great choices!
- Aim for 1 serving of whole cruciferous vegetables/leafy greens per day to reduce cancer risk, but avoid juicing or eating several servings every day as this can cause thyroid problems.
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