A Customized Approach to Nutrition for Breast Cancer Patients

By Shennie Quintanilla, MS, RD, LDN 

Nutrition plays a crucial role during breast cancer treatment, as well as in preventing recurrence. But when it comes to preparing meals for breast cancer patients, there is not just one approach, since patients do not have just one response to treatment.

Community Servings works with each patient to provide tailored meals to help with their unique situation. 

Nutrition to Fight Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death for women, despite significant improvements in screening and early detection. Among all races and ethnicities, Black women have the highest death rate from breast cancer both nationwide and in Massachusetts. 

In the last 12 months, Community Servings has served about 100 breast cancer patients, about half of whom are people of color. The meals focus on:

  • Protein to help the body repair cells and tissues and maintain a strong immune system
  • Whole grain foods to keep energy levels up
  • Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants to help protect cell health  

Our menu choices are supported by decades of research. Longstanding prospective cohort studies such as the Nurses’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II have found that a diet high in vegetables, especially those rich in carotenoids, such as carrots and tomatoes, is associated with lower risk of breast cancer. The Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study found that a low-fat diet prevented recurrence by 24 percent in breast cancer survivors after a median follow-up of five years. This type of research helps inform our recipe choices and develop dishes like our chicken primavera with a vegetable medley, including carrots and red bell peppers. 

Modifications to Address Treatment Responses

A registered dietitian nutritionist meets with each of our breast cancer clients to determine the meals that fit them best based on their situation. There are some common responses to chemotherapy treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, and digestive issues. Fatigue, weakness, weight loss, muscle wasting, and malnutrition also occur regularly during cancer treatment. Without making assumptions about what any one individual may be experiencing, we listen closely to the patients to understand what they need. 

For patients struggling to maintain a sufficient weight, Community Servings offers high-calorie and high-protein diets. For patients with dry or sore mouths or those dealing with severe nausea or vomiting, we can modify the level of spices and eliminate acidic foods that may cause irritation. For example, our chicken pot pie is hearty and full of protein, while also mild and easy to chew. For patients who cannot tolerate solid foods, we have numerous soup options, including our protein-rich split pea and carrot soup and a sweet potato soup that uses cinnamon in place of more flavorful spices. 

Our goal is for clients to receive the most appropriate food, delivered right to their doorstep, to help them improve their health and wellbeing. 

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