Eating for Brain Health
Dr Evangeline Mantzioris is the Program Director of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Degree at the University of South Australia. She is an accredited dietitian and Sports Dietitian with vast experience in clinical dietetics, clinical teaching and private practice. She is also an Associate Editor of the Journal, Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here, she shares her thoughts on eating for wellness for brain tumour patients. To hear her speak in person, please attend the NRF Brain Cancer Impact Forum on Tuesday 25th May 2021. Find out more here.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during treatment is important, you need to ensure that you are eating a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping well. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet is important as it supplies you with all the nutrients that you need to fight the cancer, support tissue growth and recovery, and maintain your energy levels. It is important that your diet is high in a variety of fruit and vegetable, breads and cereals, dairy and protein foods (including eggs, fish, chicken, meat, pulses, legumes and nuts). Be sure to also include some of your favorite feel-good meals that you enjoy sharing with your family and friends while recovering. There is no evidence to support the use of any type of supplements during treatment, in some cases it could make the prognosis worse. The exception is of course if you are prescribed a supplement by your treating healthcare team.
Eating during treatment can be difficult due to the different side effects of medications and treatment. Speak to your healthcare team and ask them about the potential impact that they may have during treatment. Side effects could include decreased appetite, nausea, bloating constipation or trouble swallowing. You will need to speak to a dietitian if the side effects are impacting on your eating and especially if you are experiencing weight loss.
Eating after recovery
Healthy lifestyles are equally important after recovery, so once again make sure you are exercising, sleeping and eating healthy food. Healthy diets are those that are high in plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, gains, cereals, nuts and legumes. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends, based on strong evidence, what we should consume for the best optimal health. We need to be eating 5 serves of vegetables, 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of breads, cereals and grains, 3 serves of dairy or equivalents and 2 serves of protein foods. While there have been no direct studies looking at the best types of diets for people that are recovering from brain cancer, we can get hints from other studies that have looked at best diets for cognitive health. What we repeatedly see from the evidence is that diets that are balanced across all the food groups and high in plant foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and cereals) with high quality protein foods (beans, legumes, fish, unprocessed meats) and olive oil provide the best outcomes.
One dietary pattern, the Mediterranean Diet has been extensively studied and shown to have excellent cognitive health outcomes as well as reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. The MedDiet is very high in plant foods with only little bit of animal-based food in it. Unprocessed meat is consumed only 2-3 times per week, and processed meats such as ham and salami are rarely or never consumed. Some of the key components of the MedDiet is the use of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and lots of leafy greens as well as using sofrito-based recipes. Sofrito is a tomato and onion sauce that is cooked with EVOO, which makes it an ideal basis for cooking vegetables, pasta, rice and small amounts of meta in it, and of course adding herbs and spices that are common in the MedDiet. The MedDiet is also rich in wholegrain cereals (think wholegrain bread and cereals) and nuts and legumes (think lentils, kidney and fava beans as well as nuts).
Dr Lisa Ebert discusses her brain cancer research which she presented at the NRF Researcher Presentations event on Wednesday 23 September 2020.