Nutrition Spotlight: Looking to Increase Veggies? Tips to Conquer Common Barriers!

Virginia Cancer Specialists Practice Blog

June 24, 2020
Virginia Cancer Specialists » VCS Practice News » Dietitians » Nutrition Spotlight: Looking to Increase Veggies? Tips to Conquer Common Barriers!

This month, the American Cancer Society released updated guidelines for cancer prevention, focusing on diet and physical activity. 

They contain 4 main recommendations on which to focus lifestyle adjustments:

    • Attain and maintain a healthy weight;
    • Be physically active;
    • Follow a healthy dietary pattern; and
    • Avoid drinking alcohol.

Today, we are going to dive into the third recommendation – “follow a healthy dietary pattern”.  Dietary pattern – what does that mean? In short, it’s what you eat and drink over time. Dos and Don’ts? Those recommendations that we all know – including eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of them.

We know that top reasons provided for not eating more vegetables include digestive issues, taste, and cost. For cancer patients, neutropenia can also be a factor, lowering the ability of the immune system to fight food borne pathogens and making it important to be extremely vigilant on food safety.  The good news? There is almost always a way (or more than one) to navigate around issues! Are you having trouble getting your veggies? Skip to the section below that speaks to the underlying cause(s) and follow the tips to give the greens…the green light!

GI Revolt – Have gas, constipation, diarrhea? The type of vegetables you choose can either help or hinder your situation.

This is you! Tips to navigate –

  1. Avoid cruciferous veggies (they are more difficult to digest). These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage.
  2. Watch out for skins and seeds (also difficult to digest). Think: corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.
  3. Go without the skin. You can skin veggies, such as potatoes and carrots, to make them easier on your digestive system.
  4. Cook veggies well to make them softer, breaking down the fiber.
  5. Use frozen and canned veggies.
  6. Keep a food journal so that you know which foods are that cause you distress—everyone is a bit different.

Taste Test – Whether your tastes have changed due to cancer treatment, or you have just never been a veggie lover per se, we all know that flavor matters when choosing what to eat.

This is you! Tips to navigate –

  1. If you are having difficulty tasting due to cancer treatment, try adding citrus and/or herbs and spices.
  2. Top veggies with tasty olive oil and sprinkled parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
  3. Use veggies as a sauce (tomato, pureed asparagus, pureed cauliflower mac ‘n cheese) for your favorite foods.
  4. Try them cold – yummy gazpacho soup anyone?!

Food Safety…Safety Net – You have been told that your immune system is compromised and that you need to be very careful in eating foods that may cause foodborne illness.

This is you! Tips to navigate –

  1. Cook vegetables well.
  2. Eat veggies as part of a cooked mixed dish (e.g., casserole, soup).
  3. Refrigerate veggies within 2 hours of preparing them.
  4. Eat prepared dishes containing veggies within 3-4 days of refrigeration (and heat well).

Cost Conundrum – There are various factors that affect the cost of produce (e.g., seasonality, source, weather conditions, a global pandemic).

This is you! Tips to navigate –

  1. Buy in season – use this guide.
  2. Shop your store’s circular (or app) and buy on sale.
  3. Purchase a variety of veggie forms (frozen, canned, dried, 100% juice) – they will last longer than fresh.

Need extra motivation? While we are still learning more about all the specifics, we do know that vegetable intake is associated with decreased risk of cancer! One of the factors that contribute to their healthfulness are the phytochemicals (beneficial compounds found in plants).  You don’t have to remember words like carotenoid, flavonoid, anthocyanin, or resveratrol to reap the benefits! Just make sure that you get a variety of types and colors of plant foods, including vegetables!

Virginia Cancer Specialists Dietitians