Nutrition: Protein, protein rich foods and cancer

Friday 04 May 2018

I wanted to take a look at Protein and protein rich foods with you and how they relate to cancer.

What are protein foods?

As you can see from last week’s blog that protein foods are foods  that come from any animal or animal product like yogurt, cheese, cream etc as well as the flesh of the animal. These types  of proteins are called ‘complete’. Vegans and some vegetarians who do not eat animal foods rely on pulses to get their protein. These are all types of peas, beans and lentils as well as seeds, nuts and some grains. These types of protein are ‘not complete’.

What’s the difference between complete and  not complete proteins?

By complete or not complete I am referring to the quality and number of amino acids that the protein food contains. Basically amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 22 in total which link up to make a protein chain. 8 of these amino acids are called essential. They are called essential because our bodies cannot make them. Therefore we need to get them from our food. Animal proteins contain all 8 of these essential amino acids that is why they are called complete. The vegetable sources of protein do not contain all 8 and are therefore called incomplete. If vegans and vegetarians eat a wide variety of the vegetable sources of protein then they will be sure to get all of the 8 essential amino acids in their diet and therefore do not need to worry.

How much protein?

Traditionally Proteins are the first to be considered when meal planning and this is for good reason. The word protein comes from the Greek word ‘Protos’ which means ‘to come first’. It has been recognised from early times to be absolutely essential to life, so getting the right balance in your diet is pretty essential.

There are many different opinions about the amount of protein that should be eaten if you have cancer.  A general consensus of opinion is that cancer patients need to increase their intake of protein especially if they are on chemotherapy or after surgery. This is because protein is very important for many of the functions necessary for recovery. It helps maintain muscle mass, nourishes the lining of the gastro intestinal tract, boosts blood count, heals tissues and boosts the immune system which in turn helps fight infection and they also help to stabilise blood sugar. According to Murray in his book ‘How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine’ People undergoing conventional treatment require as much as 50% more protein than usual. He then goes on to talk about protein rich smoothies which is something that I will touch in a future blog.

However, as always there are healthy and unhealthy choices that can be made. This simple guide outlines the good and not so good types. These guidelines are supported by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).
Better protein options

  • Fish; All types but especially oily fish (sardines, mackerel, tuna, trout, salmon, pilchards). These fish are rich in the essential fatty acid Omega 3. They are also rich in vitamins A and D and calcium (where the bones are eaten as in sardines and tinned salmon) Try to eat oily fish 3 times a week. We will look at the benefits of omega 3 in future blogs.
  • Pulses  (lentils, chick peas, aduki beans, baked beans etc ). Note; tinned varieties are a good standby as long as the beans are rinsed before being used.
  • Seeds, unsalted nuts and nut butters.  Almonds and cashews are the richest in protein.
  • Lean meat , game, skinless chicken and turkey.
  • Eggs cooked without the use of added fat i.e. poached, boiled, scrambled or an omelette
  • Quinoa and amaranth which are grains that are high in protein and can be used like rice. I use quinoa a great deal in my cookery demonstrations because of its excellent nutritional value.

Proteins to eat minimally

  • Fatty and processed meats (sausages, fatty mince, ready made burgers, salami, bacon). The fat is hard to digest and is high in cholesterol which may contribute to circulatory and heart problems. Processed meats also contain chemical additives which are unnatural and can become a burden especially on our liver which is the organ that has to primarily deal with them.
  • High fat cheeses.
  • Full fat milk and high fat dairy products. (dairy foods is a contentious issue and will be looked at in the next blog)
  • Salted, smoked and BBQ’d foods.

So how much is enough?  I can hear you asking. Well this is difficult to answer because we are all very different in size and muscle mass.

Basically a protein food should be eaten at each main meal and snack and be about ¼ of your plate. Try varying the types between plant and animal origin for a better variety of nutrients, flavours and textures. Especially as meat can be hard to digest and uses up a lot of metabolic energy. This is energy that could be used for healing, especially in times when your energy is particularly low. The amount of meat that should be eaten is again up for debate but for now try to have 2 or 3 days a week that are meat free.

Let’s put all this into practice with a few simple meal ideas:

Breakfast could be as simple as a few nuts and seeds mixed with cereal and served with yogurt milk or a milk alternative, poached egg on toast, poached haddock/kippers on toast, a simple omelette and grilled tomatoes.

Lunches I like the idea of a soup, lentil or bean based is ideal with a bread roll or simply beans on toast or hummus on oatcakes, or again a simple omelette and small salad or sardines on toast with grilled tomatoes. This is my definition of fast food!!!!

Evening meals can of course be as complicated (pastries, rich sauces etc.) or simple as you want to make them. I recommend the simple i.e. poached salmon and steamed vegetables with boiled rice or a chicken piece cooked in a foil parcel with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes served with extra vegetables or a simple jacket potato served with baked beans on top with a small salad. I could go on and on but I hope that this has given you some ideas.

Blog originally written by Caroline April 2012

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