Ask the Nutritionist
Q: Are powdered forms of vegetable mix a good substitute for vegetables during chemo treatments?
Meredith, Rockland, Massachusetts
A: A plant-based diet is the best pattern for optimal nutrition. In fact, the optimal diet for cancer patients and survivors emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, omega-3 rich foods, and lean protein sources. Plant-based doesn't have to mean 100 percent vegetarian or vegan; it just means the majority of your nutrition should come from non-animal sources.
Here is some additional advice on the optimal meal plans for managing cancer side effects.
However, it is understandable that during treatment certain foods may not taste good or may taste "off." Finding a flavor profile that works may require some experimentation to determine what you like and don't like during this time. The good thing is, there is such immense diversity when it comes to selecting foods on a plant-based diet, so if you come across something you don't like, you have a multitude of different options for finding something you do like.
Read additional tips on how to prepare fruits and vegetables.
In terms of the powdered veggies, they may seem like a beneficial short-cut, but you are missing out on some of the benefits that you would get from the real thing. Powdered broccoli or spinach may appear to contain all the vitamins found in the raw food, but there are many beneficial phytonutrients found in these vegetables that cannot be reproduced in powdered form. We also cannot be sure how much of the vitamin and mineral content is lost in the processing required to get these veggies into a powder.
In terms of antioxidants, the amounts that you would be getting from whole food vegetable sources are not contraindicated during treatment. You could consider adding spinach, kale or Swiss chard to a smoothie to boost your intake of healthy greens in an easy-to-drink and digest form. However, when you begin supplementing with a vitamin or a powdered food source, there are potential dangers associated with consuming too high levels of antioxidants during treatment — just another reason why a plant-based dietary approach is best for your health.
You can scan the powder's nutrition facts label for the percentages of antioxidants like Vitamin C, E and selenium. If it is over 100 percent of the daily value, this would be considered too high during your treatment. But there are many other nutrients that can act as antioxidants, so your best bet during treatment is to speak with your dietitian about what is advised for your personal situation.