Ask the Nutritionist
Q: My friend is having a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. What should she eat to promote healing?
Dd, Moosup, Connecticut
A: By two weeks after your friend's surgery, she should be able to return to her normal eating patterns again. A diet that will help her heal and keep her healthy should contain protein, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and carbohydrates.
It is important that your friend get enough protein during her recovery period. Protein helps the growth and repair of all cells in the body, including muscles and hormones. Some good protein choices are poultry, fish, lean meat, cheese, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and beans. So far, there is no correlation between growth hormones in meat and dairy, and harm to the cancer recovery process. If you or your friend is worried about trace residual hormones, you can make the personal choice to buy organic meats and dairy.
Other foods that will help your friend heal are fruits and vegetables, which are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and essential to aid healing in the body. The best way to include all of these vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients is to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Just remember to wash produce thoroughly. If you choose to buy organic produce to avoid pesticide exposure, choose organic fruits and vegetable that have a thin skin, such as strawberries. Thick-skinned fruits like bananas are less likely to have high pesticide residue on them, and you don't ingest the skin of these types of fruits, anyway. The Environmental Working Group Web site has a complete list of the types of fruits and vegetables that have higher and lower pesticide residue exposure.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will also supply your friend with carbohydrates which supply energy to combat fatigue that may occur after surgery. It is important to serve her complex carbohydrates, including whole grain pastas, whole grain bread, brown rice, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Healthy fats should be included regularly in a well-balanced diet. These healthy fats will also help your friend heal. Monounsaturated and omega-3 fats are the best choices. They are found in fish, olive oil, nuts and nut butters, ground flax seed, wheat germ, and avocado. Monounsaturated and omega-3 fats have been shown to improve immune function, decrease inflammation in the body and improve heart health. Fats to avoid are saturated fats and trans-fats. Trans-fats can raise bad LDL cholesterol levels and are not beneficial to helping your friend heal. These kinds of fats are found in butter and margarine, deep-fried foods, and the oils in processed foods. Anything in the ingredients list that says partially-hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils indicates there are trans-fats in that food.
Keeping up a well-balanced diet after surgery will help your friend heal the fastest and help her start feeling healthy again.