What does ‘vegan’ mean?
In dietary terms it denotes not consuming any foods or drinks derived wholly or partly from animals.
Is a vegan diet safe during cancer treatment?
Of course! But if someone is following a vegan diet because they think they “must”, rest assured that whilst we know eating more plant-based foods is good for our health, there is no evidence that a strict vegan diet provides any advantages. There is some evidence that eating foods containing soy and fibre may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Some people may struggle with certain aspects of a vegan diet after some cancer treatments and/or surgery and should speak to their oncology dietitian.
Coping and eating well during treatment
In my experience, the stress around food can cause far more damage to health and relationships than any food could. It’s much easier to follow a vegan diet if someone is feeling well during their treatment, so getting the support needed during treatment is key.
Struggling with symptoms and side effects?
People shouldn’t be afraid to buy vegan convenience foods and ready meals to get them through, the most important thing is to get enough energy and protein to meet needs during treatment.
Vegan sources of protein
During treatment, protein is needed at each meal. Vegan protein sources include lentils, soya products, quinoa, tofu, beans, nut butters, nuts and seeds. People could try and add a vegan protein powder (like hemp or pea) to soups, stews, smoothies, and mashed potatoes/vegetables.
Adding extra energy
Oils (such as olive and walnut oils), avocados, nut butters, coconut milk and coconut cream are good sources of vegan energy-dense foods. People could try adding oils to soups and stews and nut butters to porridge or smoothies.
There are some important nutrients to consider if someone follows a vegan diet, these include:
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
For many nutrients, people may need to consider a vitamin and mineral supplement that is suitable for vegans. They should double check their oncologist or pharmacist that it is suitable for the treatment they are having (high dose vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended and may impact on your treatment).
Many vegan foods are fortified with important nutrients, so check the food label. Bear in mind that “organic” foods often aren’t fortified.