Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cancer 101: Keeping Weight On During Treatment While Being Vegan

 (red sauce and veggies over oven roasted potatoes)

This is the second in the series on cancer which was prompted by a reader’s question. She wanted to know how to remain vegan and keep weight on during treatment.  Keeping weight on as a healthy vegan can be difficult. However keeping it on as a healthy vegan with cancer is very tricky so I understood immediately why Susan was asking this question.

Causes of weight loss in cancer patients:

To give everyone a little background on this topic I will start by explaining why it is difficult for cancer patients to keep weight on. There are many things that can cause a cancer patient to lose weight.  The mucositis we discussed yesterday makes it incredibly painful to eat and that can result in a 10 pound loss in a week (we saw it so I am sure of this).   Cancer treatments can suppress the patient’s appetite which is also a problem.  You have to be vigilant and eat when you are cancer patient whether you are hungry or not.  The treatments can also change your taste buds so that things taste weird and metallic. This also doesn’t make it pleasant to eat.  The tumors themselves release cytokines which are inflammatory and result in muscle wasting and therefore weight loss.  There are many weight loss related issues to deal with when you have cancer.  We have tried a lot of different things to keep weight on and found a “program” that works for us.
Healthy vegan eating to keep weight on:

Typically oncologists and oncology nutritionists recommend calorie dense omni food for cancer patients like ice cream, milk shakes, and heavy cream soups.  Needless to say I think this is beyond ridiculous since the science shows that dairy increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor one) which fuels tumor growth.  The impact of animal foods on tumor growth is the reason we went vegan so eating ice cream (dairy plus sugar – can you think of anything more toxic?) was just plain idiotic to me.  However I also realized that malnutrition kills 40% of cancer patients so I knew I had to figure this out.

(green bean and potato salad with a lemon chia seed dressing)

Since calories are paramount it is important to concentrate on the higher calorie foods when you have cancer while still consuming the healthy things (healthy greens for example). This means you need to eat things like:
  • Starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, peas)
  • Cooked beans
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
I imagine some of you are thinking, what do you I with these to make a meal? About 8 years ago I would have had the very same question.  I promise you that you will learn to cook and eat like this.  It becomes automatic after a while.

(curried chickpeas with wilted spinach)

When I “create” dishes I follow a sort of a formula.  First there is a whole grain on the bottom as a base.  Next there will be a “sauce” that is used wither with or on the grain topping.  I typically will wilt some greens and include those along with whatever veggies I have on hand (mushrooms, carrots, peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, etc.)  There will also be a bean component. Finally I always include some seeds or nuts on top for crunch and flavor but mostly nutrition.  The nuts and seeds are high in calorie and provide fat to which assists the body in absorbing fat soluble vitamins.

(green salad with artichokes, tomatoes & beans dressed with vinegar, nutrition yeast & chia seeds)

I approach salads using a sort of a formula too. Salads start with green leafies. I tend to combine shredded kale and romaine for the green component.  My salads always have beans for calories and protein and I would include more if you have cancer.  I like to keep a cooked and diced sweet potato in the refrigerator to add to salads for beta carotene and calories.  Cold roasted mushrooms also tend to be in our salads which I mentioned here.  For cancer patients I would recommend a nut or seed based dressing to add more calories. The fat in the nuts and seeds also assists you in absorbing the fat soluble vitamins in the veggies.  If you want to take the flavor up another notch tear some fresh herbs into the salad greens.

(green smoothie with walnuts)

If at any point you can’t seem to keep weight on.  We found that loading up on nuts was the easiest way to stop this. We do this by adding them to our morning green smoothies. You can also make strawberry and banana soft serve with walnuts.  Another option is to add more nuts and seeds to each dish.

Just keep trying different combinations of the items I mentioned above until you find the right balance for your body. Everyone will have different challenges and different calorie burn rates. But don’t give up.  Add calories if you need them to keep your weight on.  Remember losing weight when you are cancer patient can actually kill you.  You need to eat in order to survive. Concentrate on giving your body the most nutritious food that you like and enough of it.

Disclaimer:  I am not a physician only an informed medical consumer. Please consult your physician before making any lifestyle changes.

Happy thoughts:
  1. Woo hoo it’s Friday!  Thank goodness. This is one of those weeks that I am happy to have behind me.  One thing that I have learned in my 50 long years on this planet is that if you are patient the drama will always pass and whatever is bothering you will fade away if you wait it out.  That deserves both a happy dance and a woo hoo.
  2. I pulled a vintage sweater dress from the 50s out of my closet tonight. I haven’t worn it in years and thought it looked good so I wore it tonight. Everyone was complimentary so I think it was hit.  Even Ian and Walid noticed that I had dropped a few pounds and complimented me.  Love that!  Really, who doesn’t love compliments?  ;-)
  3. We went out to dinner tonight with Walid and Jackie and had the most wonderful time.  Ian saw us in the reservation system and made up an entire menu for us which was beyond thoughtful. I will tell you all about it in another post. It was all delicious as usual but a few things really stood out. Since Ian told me what was in them I will have to recreate them in a healthy way soon so that I can share them with you.  Looks like I will be back on my “uber healthy” plan for a few days but it was so worth it.  I love that Ian he is definitely a keeper.
  4. Big news, Jackie is thinking of shifting back to vegetarianism and you know I offered to help.  We are going to try to set up some time together soon for me to help her with menu planning.  Walid even said he was going to eat more vegetarian meals so we are making real progress.  Walid (being from Egypt) is a big carnivore. For him not to eat meat is huge.  ;-)
  5. Most of our favorite people were working at the restaurant this evening. We got to see our precious Aimee and Jeannine.  As always there was lots of hugging and talking.  I really missed everyone. They are such a great group of people.

Signing out:

I am really looking forward to the weekend. My plan is to sleep in on Saturday, get a little extra exercise to burn off the decadent and delicious dinner from Friday and do some things around the house. We will see if Dan agrees with me with me. 

Not sure what we have planned for Sunday but the weather is supposed to be much colder so it might just be mostly a stay at home day.


  1. Great ideas on here for post workout meals. The curried chickpeas and wilted spinach sounds great. Just had a peanut butter sandwich with a few hemp seeds and sunflower seeds thrown on it. It was awesome.

    1. Hi Matt,

      The curried chickpeas and wilted spinach would be great for after a workout. You could make some quinoa and add that the dish and turn it into a cold salad so it was ready immediately after working out.

      Woo hoo for adding hemp and sunflower seeds to your peanut butter sandwich. Great idea! My favorite sandwich is toasted whole wheat bread, nut butter (peanut or almond), crisp sliced granny smith apples, golden raisins and some chopped nuts or seeds. Bananas are good on nut butter sandwiches too.

      Hope you are having a great Saturday,

  2. Fascinating post! When I had cancer I was eating all the Lara bars, nuts, dried fruits, etc. I possibly could, but I also ate hard boiled eggs. I gave myself a pass and tried not to feel guilty. I think I actually gained weight because for some reason the chemo made me feel nauseous only when my stomach was empty! Your "formulas" would have helped people who wanted to cook for me create better meals than they did :) I'll bookmark it for sending it to anyone in the same situation.

    1. Wingraclaire,

      I am sorry to hear about your cancer but am glad you are here to talk about it. You have no reason to feel guilty about the eggs you ate during treatment. You were fighting for your life then and they worked for you and that is what is most important.

      Lara bars are a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing that. I know someone else will be able to use that idea when they don't feel up to cooking.

      Please pass this along to anyone who you think might need it. As I am sure you agree, I believe that superior nutrition helps patients fight cancer more effectively.

      Thank you for sharing how chemo impacted you with others. In my opinion one of the most difficult things about cancer is the unknown. I think hearing what other people went through and that they are still here gives so much hope since most people hear cancer and immediately think death.

      sending big hugs your way,

  3. I haven't checked your blog in a long time and am so happy to see you've come back to posting regularly! While I've always found your blog to be such a wealth of information regarding veganism, your posts resonate with me even more now that my mom has been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Upon diagnosis, she immediately transitioned to a vegan diet and drinks at least 1 green smoothie per day. After 4 months of chemo, her tumor has shrunken considerably!!! I've referred her here often -- keep doing what you do! :)

    1. Hi Kaitlyn,

      I am so sorry to hear about your mom's diagnosis but glad she is doing better now it sounds. Please let her know that if she has any questions I am happy to answer them or point her in the right direction. She is amazing for taking charge of things after her diagnosis. Please give her a hug from me. :-)

      Thank you for the very thoughtful comment. You made my day!


    2. Kaitlyn,

      If your mom's cancer has jumped to the liver (the usual spot) there is a fabulous surgeon at Johns Hopkins by the name of Michael Choti. He focuses on removing tumors from the liver. Thought your mom might want to get in touch with him.



Related Posts with Thumbnails