Eating a healthy diet has many proven benefits, from losing weight to helping build strong muscle and bones. And it gives the body more nutrients—which in turn may help cancer patients better manage treatment-related side effects and help them stay strong during their recovery.
Plant-based diets may provide a healthier alternative to the Standard American Diet (SAD), or Western diet, a high-calorie feast loaded with red meat, high-fat dairy products, heavily processed foods, fast foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars and salt.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) now promotes the New American Plate, which instead focuses on eating sensible servings of a variety of whole foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans—that are high in nutritional value and low in calories.
“If you’re eating the SAD diet, where you’ve got a big piece of meat and you might have one broccoli floret, it’s flipping that, so that meals are planned around whole grains, vegetables and beans,” says Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). “Meat, if you have animal foods, should be more of a complement.”
Healthy plant-based diets vary from strict vegetarian or vegan to those considered “plant-forward,” Lammersfeld says. The latter, including the New American Plate and the Mediterranean Diet, emphasizes plant-based foods but may include small amounts of meat or other animal-based food products.
Some studies have suggested that eating whole soy foods, such as tofu, edamame and soy milk, may reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. But these conclusions are primarily based on observational studies rather than rigorous clinical trials.
“It’s hard to do that type of research. There are individual food components, where if you look at them in more of a laboratory-type study and isolate them, they may show anti-cancer activity or activity at the cellular level that would be considered preventive,” Lammersfeld says. “However, that’s not how the human body works. We’re constantly putting a combination of things into our bodies. We’re exposed to things in the environment, in our genetics and our gut microbiomes. What happens in a lab test—or even in an animal, for that matter—isn’t necessarily what will happen in individual human bodies.”
About Cancer Treatment Centers of America®
Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is a national network of five hospitals that serves adult patients who are fighting cancer. CTCA® offers an integrative approach to care that combines advancements in genomic testing and precision cancer treatment, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy, with evidence-informed supportive therapies designed to help patients physically and emotionally by enhancing their quality of life while managing side effects both during and after treatment.