Tips for Eating Right in the Summer with Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Ah, summer… a time for kicking back and enjoying life. Snacks by the pool, backyard barbecues, trips to the ice cream stand – it all sounds so tempting, doesn’t it?
    But for those of us dealing with breast cancer or its after-effects, life is no longer that simple. If you’re undergoing active treatment, your favorite foods might not taste so good right now. Or you may be so tired that simply thinking of going into the kitchen – let alone actually getting out a recipe and cooking – is enough to send you right back to the couch.
    And then there’s chemical menopause, and the way it slows down your metabolism so that, even if you DO feel like eating, every mouthful seems to add another inch to your hips.

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    Not in menopause? Then you’re probably taking tamoxifen, which to many of us means about 15 extra pounds – almost instantly.
    What’s a food-loving gal to do?
    First, don’t give up. You may not be enjoying food right now, but change is inevitable; your taste buds will be on the road to recovery soon, along with your hair and everything else affected by chemo.
    Second, don’t give in to weight gain. Yes, you may put on a few pounds while you adjust to the “new normal.” But trust me, you’ll feel better – both physically, and emotionally – if you keep the weight gain to a minimum.
    Which doesn’t mean a carrot-sticks-and-water diet. It’s possible for food to be healthy AND tasty – plus quick and easy to boot.
    Sounds like a plan for summer, doesn’t it?
    Here are 10 easy, healthy, tasty menu ideas to help make this summer special.
    1) Staying hydrated is important on hot summer days. Whether you’re doing chemo, or trying to cut calories, drinking plenty of liquids is key.
    If you’ve never had lemonade made from freshly squeezed lemons, you’re in for a treat. Try this easiest of homemade zero-calorie drinks: 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 ½ cups granulated Splenda, and 10 cups (2 ½ quarts) water. Add additional juice or Splenda to taste.
    Note: If you’re not into artificial sweeteners, use the smallest amount of sugar to taste, understanding you’ll be adding calories.
    2) Total cereal (their basic, whole-grain version). One serving (3/4 cup) of Total checks in at just 97 calories and 1g of fat; and offers 3g of fiber.
    Now, hold on – whole-grain cereal has come a long way since those big ol’ Shredded Wheat Biscuits. Total’s main attraction is its taste – it’s wonderfully crunchy, and lightly sweetened. Not only that: it packs a whopping 1000mg of calcium, 100% of your daily requirement, and also offers more than 100% of your daily requirement of 10 other vitamins and minerals. Total with fresh berries? I’d call that a “total win-win.” 

    3) Fat-free half and half. I’m amazed when my girlfriends say they’ve never tried this wonderful calorie-saver. If you’re used to cream or half and half in your coffee, you’ll cut calories and fat in half, and NEVER know the difference. At just 10 calories per tablespoon, splash it on your cereal, too. You’ll be amazed how rich it seems.

    4) Speaking of dairy – if you think you don’t like fat-free yogurt, it’s time to revisit this healthy treat. You’ll find everything from cherry vanilla to raspberry white chocolate, orange mango, and good ol’ plain vanilla in the refrigerated section of your market. A typical 6-ounce carton of fat-free, “light” yogurt checks in at just 80 to 100 calories, and offers 200mg to 250mg of calcium; some fortified yogurts are even higher. 
    If you’re craving a sweet treat, try this: fresh berries or peach slices topped with vanilla yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Unbelievably good!

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    5) Gazpacho: Cold soup? How about “liquid salad?” However you think about gazpacho, this tasty sipper, a native of Spain, is an easy, refreshing way to up your consumption of healthy, low-calorie vegetables.
    Here’s how it’s done: Put half of a large can of vegetable juice (e.g., V8) into a blender or food processor – preferably a food processor. Add the following:
    2 big tomatoes, coarsely chopped
    1 cucumber, coarsely chopped
    1 red or green bell pepper, cored and cut in 8 pieces
    1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut in 1” pieces (green tops included)
    2 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
    ¼ cup red or white wine vinegar, or rice vinegar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Pulse till vegetables are diced in about ¼” to ½” pieces, or as finely as you like. Be careful not to purée; you want the gazpacho to remain somewhat chunky. Transfer the soup from the food processor to a large bowl, and stir in the remaining vegetable juice. Add 1 ¼ teaspoons salt (or to taste); 3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste); and 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tablespoon ground cumin (all optional). Enjoy cold.
    This recipe makes 11 cups; keep it handy in a covered pitcher in the fridge, so you can easily pour yourself a serving when the urge for something cold hits.
    Along the same lines: homemade fresh salsa, “salsa cruda,” packed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and garnished with assertive cilantro.

    6) How often have you read that peas and beans (a.k.a. legumes) should be an important part of your diet? They’re incredibly high in fiber, something most of us just don’t get enough of. But… beans? What, a plateful of beans?
    No. A bowl of garlicky chickpea hummus with crunchy whole-grain crackers, an easy, tasty appetizer or snack. My version of this bean dip, while not strictly traditional, is super-simple and quick; it can go from inspiration to table in less than 5 minutes. 


    7) So you’re sitting by the pool, and the urge for potato chips and dip hits – who you gonna call? Laughing Cow low-fat cheese. A 3/4-ounce wedge of this beautifully spreadable, tasty cheese checks in at just 35 calories. Spread thinly on those aforementioned whole-grain crackers, a little goes a long way.
    Yeah, it’s not exactly Wavy Lays and onion dip; but it satisfies your salty/crunchy jones, and it’s a WHOLE lot healthier.


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    8) Now, you KNOW vegetables are low-calorie, and incredibly good for you. B-O-R-I-N-G? Not at all – once you roast them. Roasting eliminates much of the water in vegetables, intensifying and sweetening their flavor, while adding an element of caramelization that takes the simple  pepper slice or carrot stick to a whole new level. Roasted vegetables are a wonderful side dish for all kinds of summertime suppers.
    Here’s how: Choose your favorite fresh “roastable” vegetables. Green or red bell peppers, zucchini or summer squash, onions, asparagus, green beans, parsnips, cherry tomatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, eggplant… all appropriate. (Cucumbers, lettuce, fresh peas… not so good.)
    Cut the veggies into same-size chunks. For instance, cut an onion in half, then cut each of the halves into three pieces, pulling the layers apart into separate pieces. Cut each pepper in half, then each half into four pieces. You want biggish pieces – maybe 1” to 1 ½”. Root vegetables should be sliced about ¼” thick.
    Toss the vegetables with enough olive oil to coat them lightly. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.
    Bake in a 350°F to 400°F oven, stirring occasionally, till the veggies have softened, shrunk, and are unevenly browned. This will take maybe 30 to 60 minutes, depending on oven temperature and the size of the vegetable pieces. Remove from the oven, and cool on the pan. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.



    9) Chocolate-dipped strawberries: Ladies, there’s NO need to pay big bucks at a chocolate shop for gourmet chocolate-dipped strawberries, when it’s so incredibly simple to make your own. Two ingredients: chocolate chips, and fresh strawberries.
    With fresh strawberries available year-round, this isn’t strictly a summertime treat. But if you DO have access to wonderful, field-fresh strawberries right now – try this recipe. You’ll taste a little bit of Heaven.



    10) If ice cream is a must-have, here are two healthier solutions. First, make your own fresh fruit sorbet. Yes, that’s right: it’s EASY to make your own sorbet. The only equipment you really need is a bowl, a spoon, a pan, and a freezer. Make your own sorbet, at home? Read all about it.
    Second, if you simply MUST have an ice cream cone, order smart. Have you noticed how even “small” cones these days are huge? Ask for a kiddie cone – really.
    Many places don’t advertise that they’ll do downsized cones, cones with 1 small scoop of ice cream; but they do, so long as you call it a kids’ cone (rather than arguing with the poor high school kid at the counter that you want a SMALL small cone). When the urge for real ice cream hits, I go to Friendly’s and ask for a (not advertised) kids’ cone – it’s a single scoop in a full-sized sugar cone, exactly what I want. And it’s just 99¢.  
    Sisters, I want you to make a vow: within the next month or so, you’ll march into the kitchen, no matter how hot it is and how tired you feel, and try at least one of these ideas. As we all know, healing happens gradually. We take many small steps to reach our goal: a return to health. Make one of these 10 suggestions YOUR small step this summer.

Published On: July 02, 2010