Boost Mesothelioma Recovery with the Power of Protein

Grill with meat, chicken and other protein

Whether you’re receiving treatment for mesothelioma or have already completed therapy, good nutrition is crucial to your health and your recovery. It may even improve your prognosis and quality of life.

Mesothelioma and its treatments are incredibly stressful on the body, which means you need even more protein than the average person to keep up with the high demand.

Extra protein is often needed after surgery, radiation or chemotherapy to heal tissues and fight infection.

Consuming the right amount of calories and protein keeps our cells healthy, and it’s especially important for people with cancer. Not having enough protein in your diet leads to low blood cell counts and some related problems.

With a low red blood cell count, you’ll tire easily and feel weak. A low white blood cell count weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to recover from treatment and minor illnesses.

The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests adults get a daily minimum of 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you’ll need even more. To find out exactly how much protein you should be eating, ask your doctor or nutritionist.

Protein Power

Protein is vital for repairing, protecting and building cells. It helps the body form not only blood cells, but also muscles, tissues, enzymes and hormones.

Every protein is made of a series of basic building blocks called amino acids. When we digest proteins, the body breaks them down into individual amino acids. These serve as raw materials our bodies can use to build other proteins important for our bones, skin, cartilage and blood.

By eating a variety of protein-rich foods, including meat, dairy, beans and nuts, we can get all the essential amino acids our bodies need. We need them to create proteins necessary for a variety of important functions, including:

  • Building tissues and muscles
  • Growing hair and nails
  • Carrying oxygen in your blood to all parts of your body
  • Building antibodies that help defend your body against viruses and bacteria
  • Carrying messages to and from your brain via nerve cells
  • Digesting food

In addition, some cancer treatments are more effective when patients stick to a well-rounded diet with the right amount of calories and protein.

If you don’t eat enough protein, the body breaks down muscle tissue to supply the energy you need. This is not ideal of course, as you want to preserve your muscle and strength as much as possible during and after mesothelioma treatment.

How to Add More Protein to Your Diet

Protein comes from a variety of animal- and plant-based foods. According to the American Cancer Society, good sources of protein include lean red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, dried beans and low-fat dairy products.

Animal Proteins:

  • Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, veal)
  • White meat (chicken, turkey)
  • Seafood (fish, shellfish)
  • Dairy (eggs, yogurt, low-fat milk, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, feta cheese)

Plant Proteins:

  • Beans (black, pinto, navy, garbanzo)
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts)
  • Soy (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, edamame)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia)
  • Grains (quinoa, amaranth, oats)

Once your doctor or nutritionist explains how much protein you need, eat protein-rich meals and snacks to meet your daily requirements.

Try these simple ways of adding more protein to your diet:

  • Add grated cheese to toast, soups, vegetables or crackers.
  • Add Greek yogurt to a smoothie for a protein boost.
  • Eat cottage cheese with a bowl of fresh fruit for a cool refreshing snack.
  • Try slices of turkey or chicken rolled with or without cheese.
  • Add peanut butter to crackers, breads, apple slices and shakes.
  • Blend a cup of nonfat dry milk powder with a quart of milk and keep in the fridge to drink when needed.
  • Keep small cans of tuna, chicken, beans and lentils on hand for quick and easy meals.

If you are lactose intolerant, you can substitute low lactose milks and cheeses for dairy. Non-dairy products, such as soy milk and rice milk, are also good alternatives. If you are mildly lactose intolerant, you may be able to tolerate yogurt and fattier dairy products, like cheese.

Chicken and White Bean Soup Recipe

For a delicious protein boost, you can try this chicken and white bean soup recipe from the American Cancer Society.

Servings: 6
Total prep time: 1 hour or less
Nutrients per serving: 235 calories, 5 grams of fat, 28 grams of protein

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken breast section or 3 cups chopped white chicken meat
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and pepper as needed

Directions

  • Remove wings from chicken and reserve. Remove skin from breast and discard. Shred the meat from the breast and separate the breastbones.
  • Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Sauté the carrots, celery, onion, chicken wings and breastbones for 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables soften.
  • Add water and chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add beans and chicken meat and cook for 5 minutes. If too thick, add more broth or water. Discard bones and wings before serving. Season with salt and pepper.
  1. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (2007, July). The Structures of Life. Retrieved from https://publications.nigms.nih.gov/structlife/structlife.pdf
  2. Claghorn, K. (2014, December 23). Protein Needs During Cancer Treatment. Retrieved from http://www.oncolink.org/coping/article.cfm?c=464&id=979
  3. Dalzell, K. (n.d.). All about protein. Retrieved from http://www.cancercenter.com/community/nutritional-support/all-about-protein/
  4. National Cancer Institute. (2016, January 8). Nutrition in Cancer Care – Patient Version. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-pdq
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Protein. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

Tejal Parekh is a registered and licensed dietitian in Florida with a master’s in nutrition and dietetics from Georgia State University. She realized her passion more than 10 years ago when she started working with cancer patients. Tejal also is one of the first dietitians in Florida to be board-certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition.

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