Protein, along with carbohydrates and fat, is one of the three macronutrients we need for good health. Adequate protein intake throughout our lifetime facilitates the growth, repair, and maintenance of every cell in our bodies. During treatment and in remission, adequate-protein is important. (Ravasco, 2019).
When we eat food that contains protein, our digestive system breaks it down into amino acids, which are used by our bodies for a multitude of tasks. Protein facilitates water balance, is a source of heat and energy, assists with disease resistance and cell repair, helps maintain blood sugar levels, fights fatigue, and is necessary for building and maintaining lean body mass, connective tissues, red blood cells, and enzymes.
Generally, the average diet provides adequate protein; however, when undergoing treatments (e.g. radiation), healing from surgery, and while the body is in a state of repair, protein requirements increase. It is important to be aware of protein food sources and to include these foods in meals and even snacks.
When we are at our healthiest, we need approximately 50 to 100 grams of protein per day depending on our life stage and activity level. While healing from cancer, we often need more. Many patients feel better when increasing their protein intake to approximately 65 to 125 grams of protein per day.
Whole, organic plant foods, are ideal. Beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds are rich sources of protein that also provide fiber as well as anticancer phytochemicals.
Avoid animal foods as they are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and increase cancer risks. They also displace healthy foods, meaning they fill us up and contain no fiber or phytochemicals. Plant foods are also naturally free of cholesterol. Animal foods (dairy and meat) also contain varying levels of hormones. This is especially true for those with hormone-sensitive cancers as animal foods naturally contain hormones, but they may also contain synthetic hormones (e.g. bovine growth hormone) and antibiotics, which are commonly used on dairy cows (Romo, 2019). Saturated fats from animal foods have been found to increase breast cancer risk and growth. Saturated fats should be minimized as they may contain animal hormones and cholesterol and they contribute to body fat weight. Our own fat cells produce estrogen that can stimulate breast cancer growth, so this is significant.
For those with non-hormone-related cancer, small amounts of high-quality, organic dairy and small amounts of high-quality eggs are also permissible. However, a small amount is defined as just three ounces per week. High-quality eggs are organic and free-range. High-quality dairy is from grass-fed cows and is free of BGH.
Dietary egg intake appears to be riskier for older women, as a recent large cohort study found that egg intake was associated with a higher risk for postmenopausal women with breast cancer (Marcondes, 2019) than those who were premenopausal.
Quality Protein Foods
Excellent sources of plant protein include chia seeds and hulled hemp seeds as they are void of hormones. Be aware that some seeds are estrogenic, such as flax seeds. Chia and hemp are high in protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids (omega-three fatty acids), which not only reduce cancer growth but also are anti-inflammatory.
Vegan, organic protein powders are easy to digest and can be added to smoothies, yogurt, and cereal or baked into protein bars or cookies. They are often made from peas, rice, hemp, or chia.
Minimize egg intake and when you do eat eggs, choose organic eggs that are fortified with omega oils.
PORTION SIZE FOOD PROTEIN
3 ounces Skipjack tuna 24
3 ounces Sardines 22
3 ounces Almonds 18
3 ounces Sunflower seeds 15
3 ounces Pumpkin seeds 15
2 tablespoons Pea protein powder 14
½ cup Oats 14
3 ounces Cashews 13
2 tablespoons Rice protein powder 11
½ cup Black beans 11
½ cup Chickpeas 10
½ cup Lima beans 8
½ cup Split peas 8
½ cup Lentils 8
½ cup Red beans 8
½ cup Pinto beans 8
2 tablespoons Almond butter 7
2 tablespoons Chia seed 6
2 tablespoons Hulled hemp seed 5
1 tablespoon Peanut butter 4
½ cup Green peas 4