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Boost Your Cancer Recovery With Protein

Posted in: Articles March 15, 2017 By Stan Gottfredson Read by 110 Users

While protein is essential in a healthy diet for maintaining the proper functioning of your body, it is especially important for people who are undergoing cancer treatment. Nearly all cells in the human body contain protein, which has multiple roles and promotes a series of vital processes, including:

  • fighting infections
  • boosting the immune system
  • facilitating the growth and repair of tissue
  • maintaining fluid balance
  • providing a source of energy
  • delivering body compounds and medication to certain parts of the organism
  • building muscles, red blood cells, enzymes, hormones and tissue

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As a macronutrient, protein is required in relatively large amounts within a balanced diet. However, unlike carbohydrates and fat, the body does not store protein, so including high-protein foods in your daily diet is crucial. Depending on the number of amino acids it contains, there are two types of protein: complete and incomplete.

Complete proteins have all of the essential amino acids and can be found in the following foods:

  • meat
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • seafood
  • soy
  • quinoa
  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • chia seeds
  • hempseed

Incomplete proteins provide only some of the essential amino acids your body needs. The most common sources of incomplete proteins include:

  • whole grains (wheat, barley, oat, rice, rye etc.)
  • seeds and nuts (pumpkin seeds, pistachios, peanuts, cashew, almonds, sunflower seeds etc.)
  • green peas
  • legumes (black beans, chick peas, navy beans, lentils etc.)

However, you do no have to consume exclusively foods rich in complete proteins. If you combine two sources of incomplete proteins, you can easily get all the essential amino acids. For instance, grains, seeds, and nuts can be paired with legumes, while peanut butter can be eaten with whole-grain bread. Other combinations which will result in a source of complete proteins are:

  • spinach salad with almonds
  • rice and beans
  • whole-grain pita and hummus
  • navy bean soup and sesame crackers

How Much Protein Do I Need?

The necessary protein intake will vary for each individual, depending on factors such as weight, age, activity level, overall health and muscle mass. As a general rule, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) are enough to supply your body with all the required nutrients. The recommended daily amount of protein ranges between 45 and 60 grams and should represent 10-15% of your daily caloric intake. Nevertheless, cancer patients are often advised to increase their protein intake, as their dietary needs are different.

Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy affect the immune system and blood cells to a great extent, consuming high-protein foods on a regular basis is vital. Moreover, some forms of cancer are known to cause hypermetabolism, a physiological state in which the organism’s ability to use carbohydrates, proteins, and fats is severely damaged. A higher intake of protein-rich foods will ensure the proper functioning of your body, as well as speed up your recovery after treatment.

The benefits of a high-protein diet for people who undergo chemotherapy or another type of cancer treatment are numerous and include:

  • a boosted immune system
  • maintaining proper hydration
  • promoting the growth and repair of red blood cells, connective tissue, muscles, and enzymes which have been affected by aggressive treatments
  • preventing weight loss
  • relieving the side effects of chemotherapy such as fatigue

Cancer patients should generally have a daily intake of 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram. You can find out how much protein is recommended to include in your diet by multiplying your weight in kilograms with 1 or 1.5. However, we highly advise you discuss with a nutritionist before changing your eating habits, as they will be able to properly assess your specific needs and provide you with an individualized diet plan.

What Are the Healthiest Sources of Protein for Cancer Patients?

Quantity is not the only important aspect when it comes to protein. The quality of your food also plays a fundamental role, as not all sources of protein can provide your body with the nutrients it needs. We have compiled a list of some of the most beneficial high-protein foods to include in your diet if you are currently undergoing cancer treatment:

  • yogurt (10 grams of protein per cup)
  • eggs (a medium egg contains approximately 6 grams of protein)
  • cottage cheese (12 grams of protein per ½ cup)
  • peanut butter (one tablespoon has approximately 3.5 grams of protein)
  • tofu (14 grams of protein per ½ cup)
  • milk (8 grams of protein per cup)
  • fish (a 3 oz. serving contains 21 grams of protein)
  • beans and legumes (8 grams of protein per ½ cup)
  • chicken breast (24 grams of protein per 3 oz. serving)
  • mixed nuts (3 gram of protein per 2 oz. serving)
  • green peas (7 grams of protein per one cup)
  • quinoa (one cup contains 8 grams of protein)
  • pork chops (26 grams of protein per 3 oz. serving)
  • Swiss cheese (8 grams of protein per 1 oz. serving)
  • steak (a 3 oz. serving contains 23 grams of protein)
  • whey protein (approximately 24 grams of protein per scoop)

Nevertheless, you should choose meat wisely, as consuming certain products may have the opposite effect and could hinder your recovery process. We encourage you to take into account the following recommendations:

  • avoid processed products such as hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, sausages and deli meats
  • consume red meat less frequently or replace it with healthier alternatives like poultry, fish or vegetarian sources of protein
  • opt for small servings of meat (a reasonable portion should be able to fit in the palm of your hand)
  • do not make meat the main focus of your meal – it is better to use it in order to add a little texture or flavor to your food
  • choose organic meat

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