Optimizing Nutrition for Cancer Patients with Dr. Simran Malhotra
Important tips to remember when prioritizing nutrition for patients with cancer.
In Part 1, Dr. Simran Malhotra introduces us to the concept of “lifestyle is medicine” when it comes to living with cancer.
In this discussion, she goes into more detail about implementing a balanced diet when living with cancer, or at high risk for it.
Brilliantly: Are there certain foods/beverages you suggest individuals avoid/talk to their doctor about before consuming—that could potentially increase their risk of cancer?
Simran: According to the WHO, 30-50% of cancers are preventable through lifestyle modifications. Making healthy food and drink choices are an important part of reducing your cancer risk.
The best part about this is that what you eat is largely in your control.
According to the American Cancer Society, some foods and beverages you may want to limit/avoid or talk to your doctor about before consuming include:
Processed meats: These include meats that have been salted, smoked, cured, or preserved in any way. Examples include bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage.
Red meat: This includes beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat. While there is no evidence that red meat definitively causes cancer, it may increase your risk. Try to limit your intake to no more than 18 ounces per week.
Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, and liver cancers. If you drink alcohol, women should have no more than 1 drink per day and men should have no more than 2.
Highly processed foods and refined foods: This includes packaged snacks, grain-based desserts, frozen meals, candy, fast foods, and sugar sweetened beverages. These are foods that have been changed so much so that they no longer resemble their natural form.
Brilliantly: What are some of your favorite balanced recipes to cook? Do you subscribe to a specific diet, or suggest your patients do?
Simran: I'm a working mom of two kids so I enjoy recipes that are quick and easy to make, but still healthy and delicious.
I absolutely love using my Vitamix to make green smoothies, sauces, and soups. And my instant pot is my go-to kitchen gadget to make meals. My family and I love a variety of buddha bowls, Indian meals I grew up eating, and of course, my signature vegan mac and cheese (made out of potatoes and carrots!). Here is the link to the IG live I did with Kristen Carbone of Brilliantly, where we cooked mac and cheese together.
My family and I transitioned to a vegetarian diet in 2015, and then became fully predominantly whole food plant based in 2018. There is an abundance of research that suggests a plant predominant diet was going to be the best way to help me reduce my risk of cancer. Research also suggests it would reduce my kids’ adult-onset risk of cancer as they may have inherited my genetic mutation.
I think the best type of fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. for cancer risk reduction are simply the ones you will eat!
Brilliantly: Do you have any tips for people looking to ease into a health and wellness routine after having a preventative treatment or cancer diagnosis? How can they best navigate this transition?
Simran: Unfortunately, conventional medical practitioners do not prioritize or leverage the power of lifestyle medicine enough. I can personally say I got very little evidence-based education on the power of nutrition and lifestyle in disease risk reduction and treatment.
I think for me what was most helpful was to get a coach before my surgeries. A lot of times people feel really lost after they've had a cancer diagnosis, or they've done some kind of preventative treatment. They're not quite sure where to go from here and they don't know how to start incorporating healthier lifestyle habits into their lives. I think finding someone or a group of people to keep you accountable and guide you can be helpful.
If you want to work with a health coach, my recommendation would be to make sure you’re working with someone who is qualified and steer clear of people trying to sell you "quick fixes" or "supplements" to "cure" you.
Another thing is to start small. Don't try to overhaul your life overnight. Start with adding in one or two things that you think might be helpful for you and then gradually add more over time.
This way it's not such a big change and it's more manageable. Choose an area of your life (nutrition, physical activity, sleep, etc.) that excites you and you feel confident you are ready to make changes in.
Finally, be patient with yourself. It takes time to make these changes and to see results. Don't get discouraged if you don't see progress right away. Just keep working at it and eventually you'll start to notice a difference.
Just remember: it's not about perfection—it's about making small changes that will have a big impact in the long run. So don't be afraid to get started!
(For anyone interested in my upcoming lifestyle and wellness coaching services, here is a link to join my newsletter for upcoming announcements soon!)
Brilliantly: Who have been your biggest supporters on your health and wellness journey post mastectomy and hysterectomy?
Simran: My husband, parents, and closest friends have been my biggest supporters on my health and wellness journey post mastectomy and hysterectomy. They have all been incredibly supportive in different ways.
From cooking dinner for me so I didn't have to worry about it, to taking care of my kids when I needed a break, to just listening to me when I needed to talk, and supporting me in starting a lifestyle and coaching business to empower young women at high risk of cancer. It truly takes a village and I am so grateful for mine!
Simran Malhotra is an M.D., 𝘋𝘪𝘱𝘈𝘉𝘓𝘔, and Certified Health and Wellness Coach (CHWC). She specializes in empowering women who are at high risk of cancer, by shifting their lifestyle and mindset.
She is a proud mother of two beautiful children, and is committed to helping raise awareness of the power of lifestyle medicine.
As both a palliative care physician and breast cancer previvor, Dr. Malhotra is committed to improving the quality of life for those suffering from chronic illnesses. She is a BRCA 1 mutation carrier, and opted to have a preventative mastectomy and hysterectomy, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Navigating her own health and treating her patients during the toughest of pandemic conditions, has motivated her to empower, educate, and represent those going through similar experiences.