Ask the Expert: Treatment

The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Treatment

Q: Is a vegan diet recommended for patients that have just been diagnosed with cancer and are not under going therapy yet but are about to have surgery?

A: The Food for Life course speaks specifically to individuals interested in prevention and those who are done with treatment. However, a vegan diet can be healthy and beneficial at all stages. Someone undergoing treatment should talk with their doctor about any major diet changes.

Q: I am undergoing chemotherapy and I have had trouble with diarrhea. I find that a strict vegan diet passes through me too quickly. Plain white rice seems to be the only thing that will help foods "last" in my system.

A: You should probably try to eat a low-fiber diet through out treatment if this is an issue. Spelt, bulgur, oats, millet and just about any type of grain are fairly high in fiber. As for lower-fiber plant foods... soymilk, tofu, rice milk, almond milk, white rice, couscous, pasta, nuts, fruit juices, lettuce, vegetable juice without pulp; the following cooked vegetables: yellow squash (without seeds), green beans, wax beans, spinach, pumpkin, eggplant, potatoes, without skin, asparagus, beets, carrots.  If you are concerned about protein, you may want to consider adding a non-dairy protein powder to some fruit or vegetable juice.

Q: What types of vegetables are the best to eat? 

A: The Cancer Project encourages eating a variety of different types of vegetables, making the plate as colorful as possible is a good strategy. However, research has shown that cruciferous vegetables are one of the best types of vegetables to consume. More specifically, vegetables in the brassica family are great to load up on the plate at every meal, and include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. This is mainly due to the single presence of an anti-tumor compound called sulforaphane that is released by these plants through the action of chewing or bacteria in the gut. Sulforaphane has been shown to be active against many different types of tumors. There is good evidence for the protective effects of sulforaphane for colorectal, prostate, non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and breast cancers. A study from Japan found that broccoli was the most effective at reducing bladder cancer. Sulforaphane is being actively researched, but it has been shown to inhibit tumor blood supply, metastasis or the spread of cancer throughout the body, to act as an antioxidant, and even as an antibiotic. You can even enjoy the benefits of sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts. In a placebo-controlled, blinded intervention study in China where there are high rates of liver cancer, presumably due to the high amounts of environmental aflatoxin, daily administration of broccoli sprout extract reduced the presence of aflatoxin-caused damaged DNA in the urine. This exciting research has set the stage for clinical trials involving this marvelous compound found in broccoli.  

Kensler TW, et al. Effects of glucosinolate-rich broccoli sprouts on urinary levels of aflatoxin-DNA adducts and phenanthrene tetraols in a randomized clinical trial in He Zuo township, Qidong, People's Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(11 Pt 1):2605-2613.

Fahey JW, Zhang Y, Talalay P. Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94(19):10367-10372.