Is dairy bad for you when you have cancer? | Jane Clarke, Ask an Expert Ep.2
I’m Jane Clarke and I’m a dietitian and food
lover. I’ve treated people living with cancer
for over 25 years, and I’m here to talk about food.
And how the foods you put inside your
body can be a great ally when you’re living
So today I’m in a cheese room of one of my favourite cheese shops
to talk about how dairy foods can be useful when you’re living with cancer.
There has been a lot of conflicting evidence
and conflicting stories in the newspapers
about whether it’s safe to eat dairy when
you have cancer. There are books out there
that say that dairy feeds cancer, or that
the hormones within dairy foods make cancer
even worse. The evidence just isn’t there.
So for now, we say that calcium rich dairy
foods should be a part of your balanced diet.
Some of the hormone treatments or chemotherapy
that you undergo when you’re living with cancer
can make your bones more at risk of being
brittle. You might be told by your care team
to increase your calcium rich foods. Cheese
can be a great source of calcium, from the
hard cheeses like a parmesan or a cheddar,
right the way through to a softer goats cheese.
Sometimes when you’re undergoing cancer treatment
the idea of sitting down to a meal feels too much.
Dairy foods can just be a way of
gently easing some calories inside your body.
If you’re watching television or a reading
a book, you could put out a selection of nibbly foods.
Pieces of cheese and biscuits could
be an idea, or a little bit of yoghurt and some fruit.
If you’re neutropenic your care team might
tell you that you should avoid the cheeses
that have more bacteria than usual. That can
be the blue cheeses, the soft cheeses.
But that doesn’t mean things like a cream cheese
from the supermarket. The majority of them
are made from pasteurised milk, and they’re
completely fine for you to have, unless your
care team have said that you shouldn’t have
When you’re undergoing cancer treatment you
can sometimes have a problem digesting high
fat foods. Particularly if you’ve had a cancer
that affects your gut. Dairy products like
cheese can be quite high in fat. Rather than
cutting something out, let’s just try a few
things to see if we can help you incorporate
a food that you love, but in a way that your
body feels comfortable digesting it.
When we come to soft cheeses like a brie or
a camembert, the fat largely sits within the
rind of the cheese. So if you cut the rind
off and then serve it with something like
a wholegrain cracker, not only does cutting
the rind off reduce the fat content, but also
when you’re putting it with something like
a wholegrain biscuit, it makes it easier for
the gut to digest.
Some people when they’re undergoing cancer
treatment might just find that a lot of lactose
aggravates an overactive bowel. You might
just want to keep a little food diary.
List the foods that you’re having and then how
much you’re having of it, and then what your
body is feeling at that precise moment. If
you notice that particular lactose containing
foods like cheese, yoghurt, milk. You may
think that after those you don’t feel so great
inside your stomach or digestive system. There
are amazing other non dairy milks out there,
such as coconut milk, hemp milk, rice milk
and oat milk. So check out the non dairy alternatives.
Some people can get very worried that soya,
because it contains phytoestrogens, which
are an oestrogenic or oestrogen-like substance,
that if you have a specific type of cancer
that’s sensitive to hormones, you might think
“I mustn’t have any soya”. That’s actually
not the case. The levels that most people
have are completely below any level that would
be a cause for concern.
I’m one of the experts on our Online Community,
so if you’ve got any questions about dairy
or calcium, just post a question, either in
the box below or just ask within our community,
and I’ll come back to you.