Can Ultra Processed Foods Affect My Mesothelioma Treatment?

Health & Wellness

This blog is Part 1 of a series on the relationship between nutrition, mental health and mesothelioma treatment. 

For people diagnosed with mesothelioma, eating the right balance of foods is important for many reasons. It helps keep the body strong and healthy to deal with treatments and aids in recovery. However, getting that balance right isn’t always easy and it’s hard to know what foods are considered the ‘right’ ones to eat.

In a recently published meta-analyses review, researchers examined a collection of studies conducted in the last 15 years. They looked at how ultra processed foods affect the body. 

Foods you and I prepare in our kitchens such as bread typically contain simple ingredients. Home-baked bread only requires 4 ingredients: Flour, warm water, salt and yeast. Highly-processed bread can contain complex lists of added emulsifiers, preservatives, dyes, saturated fats and sugars. This results in a product we couldn’t – and likely wouldn’t want to – replicate in our kitchens.

Ultra Processed Foods Can Include
  • Bacon
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Commercial bread
  • Deli meats
  • Frozen pizza
  • Ham 
  • Hot dogs 
  • Instant soups
  • Margarine
  • Microwave-ready meals
  • Packaged snacks
  • Sausages 
  • Soda

If you’re thinking “I have a lot of these foods in my pantry!” you’re not alone. In the U.S., U.K. and Canada more than 50% of the food we eat daily are ultra processed foods.

What Does the Study’s Findings Mean for Me? 

Unfortunately the findings weren’t great, but they weren’t that surprising either. Ultra processed foods tend to be high in sugar, fat and salt, and low in fiber and nutrients. 

Researchers found people who eat a lot of these foods are at increased risk for a number of diseases. Mesothelioma patients with coexisting conditions may not qualify for all types of treatment and may have a higher risk of complications.

Some conditions associated with heavy intake of ultra processed foods include anxiety, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental disorders. People who relied heavily on these foods were also at risk for having trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and weight issues.

Mesothelioma patients with these coexisting conditions are at a higher risk for experiencing problems after surgery or during chemo. Heart disease, for example, may reduce eligibility for aggressive treatment. 

What Can I Do to Improve My Mesothelioma Diet?

Nutrition is important before, during and after you receive mesothelioma treatment. Your body is under stress and you may have lost weight already before your diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Before treatment even starts you may be experiencing fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea. This makes nutrition a very important part of your care. 

Important changes you can make in your mesothelioma diet now is to include nutrients that can help improve your overall health. These key nutrients include carbohydrates, healthy fats, minerals, protein and vitamins.

Nutrient-Rich Food Benefits for Mesothelioma
  • Avoid weight loss
  • Enhance tolerance to treatments
  • Improve mental wellbeing
  • Maintain muscle
  • Provide energy and reduce fatigue

A varied diet can provide all these nutrients and includes foods from different food groups. They are beans, dairy foods, fish, fruits, nuts, poultry, seeds, vegetables and whole grains.

Nutrition Tips to Prepare for Mesothelioma Treatment

Often, processed foods are helpful or convenient when you don’t have the time or energy to make a meal. The key is to find a balance between what’s best for your body and what’s easy for you.

If you need to include ultra processed foods, don’t worry. A mix of both is completely acceptable because you have a lot to deal with right now.

Top Tips for Pretreatment Healthy Eating
  1. Eat 3 meals: The first priority is to avoid weight loss and eat at least 3 meals per day. 
  2. Organize a meal train: If nearby friends and family would like to help, ask them to organize a meal train or meal delivery schedule.  
  3. Stock healthy snacks: Stock up on healthy snacks that are ready to eat. Not all packaged foods are bad for you! Unsalted, low-sugar options can be helpful convenient options. 
  4. Buy flash frozen foods: Frozen fruits and vegetables are your friends! Flash freezing preserves nutrients without additives. Try to buy unseasoned and unsalted food without added sugar.
  5. Buy unflavored varieties: Many flavored options have a lot of extra sugar and salt added. Go for plain options and add your own fruit, juice or honey.  
  6. Swap bacon with lean protein: Trade in bacon, ham, hot dogs or deli meats for lean meat, poultry or fish. Processed meats contain a lot of chemicals harmful to our body and are usually high in salt. 
  7. Blend away: Smoothies and soups are a great way to add in plenty of those nutrient rich fruits and vegetables with ease.

We hope these tips are helpful for you and your caregiver. Meal trains, for example, mean you don’t have to cook, you’ll have home cooked meals and you can freeze leftovers for later.

Frozen vegetables come in a variety of mixes and can be very convenient to add to a pasta dish or as a side dish with a piece of salmon, for example. Most can be cooked very quickly in the microwave or steamed in the bag and are already cut and ready to use.  

Flash frozen lean meat, chicken and fish is also a healthy and convenient alternative. Frozen cuts of these foods make it easy to store and use. They’re usually cut into the right size portions too. Frozen salmon, for example, can be cooked straight from frozen. This can be an easy way to stock up on foods without worrying about wasting. Use as you need!

Grabbing unsalted nuts, dried fruit without added sugar, cheese sticks, low-sugar Greek yogurt pots, cottage cheese, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and canned or jarred fruit in natural juice or water can help you easily snack on healthy foods throughout the day. 

Packaged fruit yogurts, oatmeal packets and fruit drinks often contain significant amounts of sugar and sodium. Instead, go for plain yogurt or oats and add your own fruit or honey. Instead of soda or other sugary drinks, buy sparkling water and add a splash of 100% fruit juice to make a healthy beverage.

Blend different kinds of fruit – including frozen – with some milk of your choice, a scoop of protein powder or some Greek yogurt to create a high-protein smoothie. You can also use different veggies and add in lentils or beans for a high-protein soup. Herbs and spices give soup flavor and depth while boosting the antioxidants. It’s a perfect combination for the road ahead.

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