Good nutrition is a very important part of cancer treatment. Patients being treated at the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center have access to registered dietitians with expertise in the nutritional needs of cancer patients.
A nutritious diet can help patients feel better and stay stronger, especially if they are receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The right foods not only help rebuild the body's cells and energy levels, but also nourish your emotions. The dietitian can also provide dietary techniques to help alleviate poor appetite, taste changes, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss or gain, as well as nausea and mouth sores.
Eating well means consuming a variety of foods that provide the nutrients needed to keep patients healthy while undergoing cancer treatment. Benefits of a healthy diet include:
- Maintaining strength and energy
- Decreasing the risk of infection
- Tolerating treatment-related side effects
- Replenishing the body's store of nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight
- Quicker healing and recovery times
At the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, registered dietitians who are board-certified specialists in oncology nutrition, will work closely with patients and caregivers to give advice about nutritional needs before, during, and after cancer therapy.
Managing Side Effects
Food, Nutrition, and Prevention of Cancer and Chronic Diseases
The general consensus held by scientists and health professionals, is that other than genetic predisposition, most common cancers may be caused by potentially controllable external factors. These include physical activity, food and nutrition, and environmental factors such as smoking and exposures in the work place. This means that cancer is a largely preventable disease.
A healthy eating plan can not only help you to lose weight, but also help protect against several common cancers and chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cataract formation, diabetes, and age-related diseases. When combined with not smoking and regular exercise, this can decrease the risk of heart disease by 80 percent and some cancers by 70 percent.
The World Cancer Research Fund International along with the American Institute for Cancer Research recently published a comprehensive report that analyzed over 7,000 studies on food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer. The recommendations apply for cancer survivors as well as people who have not had cancer and who are striving for a healthier future.
Here are six key steps to creating a healthy lifestyle for prevention of disease and overall health.
Watch Your Weight: This was one of the report's major recommendations. They advise that people be as lean as possible within the normal body weight range – a goal of a Body Mass Index between 21 and 23. Being overweight and obese have been found to lead to several cancers including breast, prostate, endometrial, esophagus, and colon; but also other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.
- Try to weight yourself every week, always in the morning. This will allow you to stay on target with your goals – whether they are to lose or maintain weight.
- For weight loss, the most important thing to concentrate on is portion sizes. Remember: Every little bit counts! If you eat 100 calories above what your body needs a day (which is only 1 slice of bread), then you’ll gain 10 pounds a year. BUT - If you do about 20 minutes of moderate activity a day, which burns about 100 calories, then you’ll lose 10 pounds a year.
Be Physically Active: Include activity as part of everyday life. Along with reduction of disease risk, studies show that people who diet and exercise lose more weight and keep it off compared with those who diet alone.
- Start with moderate activity of about 30 minutes per day and as fitness improves, increase time and difficulty.
- Resistance, or weight training, is just as important as aerobic exercise because it helps increase your metabolism and build bone strength.
Limit Empty Calories and Fast Foods: In other words, foods and drinks that promote weight gain without promoting health. Empty calories include sugary drinks such as sodas, fruit drinks, and coffee with lots of added sugar and cream. Beverages are a huge culprit in weight gain because the body doesn’t recognize that it’s taking in calories, so you can drink literally hundreds of extra calories a day and not realize it. Fast foods and pre-packaged foods typically have lots of added fat, sugar, and preservatives that also lead to weight gain.
- Try to choose calorie free and sugar free drinks to minimize excess calories.
- One way to minimize processed and fast foods is to bring your lunch to work. Also, try shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where all the fresh products and minimally processed foods are kept.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: People whose diets are rich in plant foods have a lower risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, lung, and possibly lower risk of colon, pancreas, and prostate cancer.
Fruits and vegetables are nature's multivitamin. They also contain antioxidants, which are the plant’s natural immune system, protecting them against UV light and insects. Therefore, when we eat them they help protect our bodies from damage that leads to chronic diseases and cancers. Every color does something different and has a different array of vitamins and minerals.
- Aim for 5 to 9 servings per day and choose fruits and vegetables of all colors.
- Half your plate at dinner should be non-starchy vegetables.
Choose Whole Grains: Refined grains, such as white breads and sugary cereals, have had the outside of the grain removed during processing. This is the part that contains the fiber, B vitamins, and iron. On the other hand, unrefined grains have had nothing removed, and are called “Whole Grains.” They provide many more nutrients.
- Look for cereals and breads with 3 grams of fiber or more per serving.
Reduce Red and Processed Meats: These animal products are associated with risk of colorectal cancer and possibly prostate cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb; while processed meats include bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cold cuts.
- Stick to around 12 ounces total of red and processed meats per week.
- When you do eat them, choose the leanest cuts and remove all visible fat.
- Try not to char the meats during cooking as recent studies are showing that burnt meats may be carcinogenic.
Reference: World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR, 2007.