Many times, oncology patients want to find ways in addition of treatment that they can focus on restoring their health. Developing a healthy, treatment sensitive eating plan can be a great way to boost your health through the recovery process. In fact, being nutritionally sensitive can not only help you physically, but can also combat some of the side effects individuals may experience from either chemo or radiation treatment.
Often times, cancer treatment can have a profound effects on the dietary habits of our patients. Nausea, mouth sores, and food aversions are just a few of the factors that can hold patients back from eating the foods that can support their treatment. However, there are actually foods you can incorporate into your diet to help combat these side effects. Working with a licensed dietician who is trained to work with oncology patients can help you find dietary supplements and/or foods that can help you deal with these issues directly.
In general, what kind of a diet should a typical cancer patient follow?
The nutrient needs of people with cancer vary from person to person. Your cancer care team can help you identify your nutrition goals and plan ways to help you meet them. However, research suggests that many cancer patients can benefit from a healthy, nutritionally dense diet focused on clean, nutritious foods. This includes a balanced diet of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals.
Protein plays an important role in the dietary needs of individuals undergoing treatment. Protein helps our bodies restore cells, repair body tissues and boost our immune system. People with cancer often need more protein than usual. After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and help fight infection.
Lean, healthy sources of protein are an important part of a nutritionally-dense diet for patients. This includes: fish, poultry, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts and nut butters, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods. If you find it hard to eat the protein options you have enjoyed in the past, consider boosting your protein intake with protein shakes, bars, or products that contain an added protein ‘boost’.
While fats have gotten a bad rap in the past, we know that healthy fats are an essential part to every balanced diet. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissues, and transport some types of vitamins through the blood. However, it is important to remember to focus on fats that don’t lead to higher cholesterol and increase complications- such as saturated fats and trans fats. Avocados, peanut butter, eggs, and milk are all examples of nutritionally dense fat sources.
While many fad diets focus on cutting out carbohydrates completely, treatment may not be the best time to try out the Keto diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of energy. Carbohydrates give the body the fuel it needs for physical activity and proper organ function. During treatment, we want our diets to help enhance our energy supply and support our bodily functions as much as possible- and carbs are an important part of that balance.
When selecting carbs, its important to focus as much as possible on ‘whole grains’. Whole grains contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. Whole grains are found in cereals, breads, and flours. Oats, quinoa, wheat, barley, and brown rice are all examples of ‘whole grain’ foods. When possible, elect to choose one of these options over the more processed white flour options.
While you should always consult your doctor in advance of adding an over the counter supplement, cancer patients may be good candidates for an additional multivitamin. While it is typically preferred for individuals to access their vitamins and minerals from fresh fruit and vegetables, it can be difficult for individuals undergoing chemo treatments to get all that they need through diet alone. Talk to your oncologist about your typical daily diet, to see if you may be a good candidate for an additional supplement.
Gwinnett Medical’s Cancer Support center provides access to licensed clinical dietitians with a focus on cancer-sensitive eating plans. Center for Cancer Care patients can access this services at our Cancer Support Center, or attend one of the monthly nutrition classes hosted on the second Tuesday of each month. This class is held at the support center from 6-7 pm, at 631 Professional Dr. Suite 220 Lawrenceville, GA 30046.
Purposeful, healthy eating can be a great way to support the work your body is doing while undergoing chemo or radiation. A nutritionally dense diet can be a great way to increase energy, reduce side effects, and support your cancer treatment. Take some time to speak with your doctor about steps you can take nutritionally to promote a healthy lifestyle while in treatment.