Maria Petzel, RD, CSO, LD, CNSC, senior clinical dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a member of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, said this is a very complex question with no simple answer.
Summarizing reports in several nutrition, neurology and mental health journals, Petzel noted that there is some evidence that a healthy diet, composed mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, like olive oil, is associated with lower risk or rates of depression in the general population.
Still, researchers have not investigated the topic of food and mental health enough to come up with a verifiable answer to the question.
“To my knowledge, diet’s influence on depression has not been studied in patients with cancer,” Petzel said. “However, we do know that better nutritional status is associated with better quality of life in patients with certain cancers.”
She added, “The relationship between diet and mental health is an emerging topic.”
Petzel acknowledges that sometimes eating healthfully can be difficult, especially for time and energy-crunched pancreatic cancer patients and their families. She recommends that people trying to improve the quality of their diets refer to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) New American Plate.
5 Guidelines from the AICR:
- Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein (like red meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy)
- Want more protein? Add plant-based protein sources such as tofu, beans, nuts and tempeh to the 2/3 plant-based section of your plate
- If you’re not a vegetable fan, add veggies to sauces and soups, or cook them in a different way (roasting or grilling)
- Be physically active
- Maintain a healthy weight
While the scientific jury is still out on diet and mental health, Petzel encourages pancreatic cancer patients to eat nutritiously.
“We know a plant-based diet that includes whole grains and plant-based proteins can help reduce cancer risk and is recommended for cancer survivors,” Petzel added. “I encourage patients to follow a diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts — limited in red meat, preserved meat and processed foods.”
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