After a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients and their families often search for things they can do and changes they can make to support the best possible outcomes. One of the most significant ways to support the health and wellbeing of mesothelioma patients (as well as the effectiveness of any treatment regimen) is also one of the most basic: diet and nutrition.
Why is diet and nutrition important for mesothelioma patients?
Nutrition is fundamental to health, and many health outcomes can be improved by maintaining a nutritious diet. The body uses the food we eat to fuel itself and to maintain healthy functioning, as well as to promote healing, tissue repair, and immune system health. This is especially important when dealing with a serious disease like mesothelioma. A nutritious diet can provide essential support to the body as it deals with the stress of mesothelioma and mesothelioma treatment. This can improve quality of life and support the effectiveness of treatments while helping to mitigate side effects.
What is the best sort of diet for mesothelioma patients?
There is no one set diet for mesothelioma patients, as each patient has specific nutritional needs as well as treatment and care goals. Always consult with your mesothelioma care team about the type of diet that will work best for you.
However, overall, mesothelioma patients usually benefit most from the following characteristics in a diet:
- Low in bad fats, and high in good fats: Not all fats are created equal. Bodies need certain types of fats to absorb vitamins and minerals, maintain healthy cells, nerves, and muscles, and help with blood clotting and with inflammation—all of which is especially important for mesothelioma patients.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acid) are “good fats” that mesothelioma patients should incorporate into their diets. They usually come from plants and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and certain types of fish. Foods rich in good fats include:
- Olive oil, which also has high levels of antioxidants and vitamin E.
- Other non-hydrogenated oils, including peanut oil, canola oil, and high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
- Walnuts and Brazil nuts, as well as most other nuts.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel.
There are also certain fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, that mesothelioma patients should avoid unless instructed otherwise by their mesothelioma care team. Foods high in these fats can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and inflammation. They are most commonly found in fried and fast food, shortening, red meats, animal fats, and hydrogenated vegetable oil.
- Lots of Lean Proteins: Protein is an essential nutrient that is needed by the body to maintain many crucial functions, such as metabolizing food into energy, circulating oxygen throughout the body, creating antibodies to strengthen the immune system, and both creating and protecting new, healthy cells. It also helps mesothelioma patients undergoing treatment to keep on weight, which can be difficult due to the side effects of certain types of treatment.
Good sources of protein for mesothelioma patients include:
- Lean beef or pork (in moderation)
- Dairy products
- Legumes, like beans, peas, or lentils
- Nuts and seeds
In general, mesothelioma patients should try to avoid sources of protein with too much animal fat, such as non-lean red meat or bacon. They should also limit or avoid processed meats and cold cuts, which contain nitrates that can complicate lung health.
- Complex Over Simple Carbs: It is important for mesothelioma patients to get lots of fiber in their diets (around 20-30 grams per day), which is where complex carbohydrates can come in handy. Dietary fiber can help regulate blood sugar and the digestive system, which can facilitate better oxygenation and overall functioning. Mesothelioma patients should opt for complex carbs like whole-grain bread and pasta over simple carbs like white bread, white table sugar, candy, cake, and non-diet soft drinks. Simple carbs take more work to digest, and therefore take more work for the lungs to metabolize them.
- Reduced Sodium: Mesothelioma patients usually benefit from a low-sodium diet. Sodium causes fluid retention, which can negatively affect lung functioning and breathing. Many common items at the grocery store contain high levels of sodium, so be sure to read labels and try to opt for low-sodium versions of staple products, aiming for no more than around 300 mg of sodium per serving.
- Focus on Fruits and Veg: Fruits and vegetables should make up a significant portion of the diets of mesothelioma patients. There are several types of fruits and vegetables that are especially good for supporting the health of patients with lung cancers like mesothelioma, including:
- Blueberries: Blueberries are a highly nutritious source of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect lung tissue and may contribute to slowing the rate of decline in lung functioning.
- Apples: Apples contain an antioxidant called quercetin as well as flavonoids and high rates of vitamin C, which may be linked with reduced rates of lung decline and protection against lung damage (especially in those who eat 5 or more apples per week).
- Beets: Both beetroot and beet greens are packed with vitamins and minerals that reduce blood pressure and help lung function and oxygenation. Beet greens have added potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and carotenoid antioxidants, all of which lay a foundation for healthier lungs. The potassium in beet greens also helps reduce water retention and improve digestion.
- Leafy Greens: Like beet greens, other leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, kale, and chard also provide carotenoids and other antioxidants, as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and other vitamins. Swiss chard in particular is especially high in magnesium, which protects against inflammation and tends to relax the bronchioles—the small airways in your lungs—to facilitate easier breathing.
- Pumpkins: Pumpkins contain specialized carotenoids (specifically carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) that are powerful antioxidants that help the body’s anti-inflammatory defenses, especially when it comes to the lungs.
- Tomatoes: A nutrient-dense food, tomatoes contain lycopene (a carotenoid associated with improved lung function and reduced airway inflammation), as well as potassium.
- Peppers: One of the best sources of water-soluble vitamin C, consuming just one medium-sized sweet red pepper can deliver over 150% of a person’s recommended minimum daily vitamin C intake. It is especially important for patients with lung conditions like mesothelioma to maintain higher levels of vitamin C, which makes peppers a great addition to a mesothelioma patient’s diet.
If you or a loved one are suffering from mesothelioma and have questions, call our Louisville office at 855-385-9532.