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Eating for a healthy prostate in Movember and beyond

Posted Nov 29th, 2023

A display or artfully arranged fruits and vegetables

Eating more plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins is part of a cancer-free lifestyle.

Nearly 26,000 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Of those who live in Niagara, some will cross paths with Pamela Szabo-Kode, a dietitian at the Walker Family Cancer Centre, who helps people undergoing cancer treatment maintain nutrition.

“Often, cancer and the side effects, as well as treatment side effects, can impact how a patient can eat, and can impact their nutritional needs,” Szabo-Kode says. “Maintaining nutrition while undergoing treatment helps maintain strength, well-being and the immune system.”

Paying close attention to what you eat isn’t just important after a prostate cancer diagnosis, Szabo-Kode says. Food can be preventive medicine.

Szabo-Kode has plenty of pointers for maintaining good prostate – and overall – health.

A lifestyle for cancer prevention

Taking her cues from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, Szabo-Kode recommends that everyone, including those who are concerned about prostate health, follow the general health and dietary guidelines for cancer prevention.

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight. Speak to your healthcare practitioner to determine what’s healthy for you.
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks, including pop, specialty coffees and teas, energy drinks, some sports drinks and fruit-flavoured beverages and punches.

    “It’s better to eat your fruit than drink it,” Szabo-Kode notes.
  4. Follow the half-your-plate rule. Specific to prostate cancer, that means eating more plant-based foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas.

    “Following a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to follow a vegetarian diet. You can still eat meat, chicken and fish. Eat a variety of plant foods prepared in a healthy way every day,” Szabo-Kode says. “Ideally, half your plate should be fruit and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and whole grain bread, and a quarter of your plate should be protein.”

    Aim for a few entirely plant-based meals a week, she adds. That could be a vegetarian chili instead of a version with ground meat, or swapping out meat for lentils to make a Bolognese for pasta. Trying tofu in place of chicken in a stir-fry is another option.

    “The other benefit of a plant-based meal is increased satiety. It can make you less likely to overeat and automatically reduces overeating processed foods, leading to maintaining a healthy weight.”
  5. Keep red meat consumption to a minimum. Don’t eat more than three servings per week, including beef and pork, and avoid processed meat, such as ham, bacon, hot dogs and deli meat entirely.
  6. Limit alcohol. That means no more than two drinks per week.

    “That’s not just for preventing prostate cancer,” Szabo-Kode says. “That’s across the board to reduce your cancer risk. Ideally, if you don’t drink, don’t start.”
  7. Cut down on salt. Most of our salt comes from processed foods and is added at the manufacturer, not the dinner table. In addition to certain cancers, getting too much sodium has been linked to other chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure.
  8. Try to get your nutrients though diet alone, not supplements. When it comes to prostate cancer prevention, studies show that selenium and vitamin E are linked to reduced risk or disease progression.

    “However, we have found that when you take selenium and vitamin E in high doses, such as a supplement, it can be harmful, so it’s better to get them from food rather than supplements,” Szabo-Kode says. “When you’re eating a plant-based diet with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, you will meet your nutrient needs. If you’re eating a varied diet, you really shouldn’t need a supplement.”

Pamela Szabo-Kode is a dietitian at the Walker Family Cancer Centre

Pamela Szabo-Kode is a dietitian who works with patients with prostate cancer at the Walker Family Centre. 

Foods that are good for the prostate

“While it’s not proven, research shows certain foods may limit or slow the growth of prostate cancer,” Szabo-Kode notes. “In addition, these are foods that are part of a healthful diet for anyone.”

  1. Tomato products, including fresh tomatoes or canned; sauce, paste and juice. Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which, in high levels, can cause cell damage linked to a wide range of health conditions, including prostate cancer.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and bok choy. These veggies are high in nutrients that can protect your prostate.
  3. Plant-based fats, such as avocados, nuts and seeds, and canola and olive oil. Limit animal fats by opting for skinless chicken, and avoiding fatty meats, high-fat dairy and baked goods made with butter.
  4. Fish, flaxseed, pomegranate, coffee and tea may also be beneficial for prostate health.

Maintaining nutrition during treatment for prostate cancer

Diet during treatment for prostate cancer depends on how advanced the illness is and the type of treatment someone is receiving. Some therapies may cause people to experience weight gain while side effects of others include decreased appetite and diarrhea.

Those who don’t have any adverse reactions to treatment are encouraged to follow the broader, cancer-fighting diet recommendations mentioned above and eat protein at every meal.

Even though there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment diet, making muscle health and the maintenance of lean muscle mass priorities can improve outcomes, Szabo-Kode explains. That means eating adequate protein with servings spread throughout the day.

Fish, meat, legumes, nuts and seeds, and yogurt are all high-quality options.

“Protein should come from a variety of sources, like animals and plants,” she says.

“Importantly, when it comes to prostate cancer prevention, you should enjoy your food,” Szabo-Kode adds. “Eat a variety of colours and use different methods of meal preparation. Remember that all foods can fit. It’s not the piece of birthday cake at a birthday party or the ice cream cone you enjoy with your grandchildren on a hot summer day, but the nutritious choices you make day in and day out that really make the difference.”

Niagara Health System