Nearly all of us have been touched by cancer in some way. Whether someone you know or love has battled it, or you’re a survivor yourself, the disease impacts almost everyone. Since cancer touches so many of us, I wondered: What does a healthy diet look like for a cancer survivor? Diet is so important for all of us, but what does that look like for someone who’s been through a battle?
I reached out to Alie Match, RD, LD, a clinical dietician at The Christ Hospital Cancer Center, to ask her some questions to which my podcast listeners are looking for answers.
What are the best foods to prevent or help fight cancer? What foods should a survivor absolutely stay away from?
Alie says that cancer prevention recommendations from the American Institute of Cancer Research's (AICR) Third Expert Report include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans
- Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars
- Limit consumption of red and processed meat
- Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Do not use supplements for cancer prevention
- For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can
Not smoking and avoiding other exposure to tobacco and excess sun are also important in reducing cancer risk. Follow all of these recommendations after a cancer diagnsos as well.
The advice seems pretty simple – eat whole foods, move your body, and don’t smoke!
Does sugar ‘feed’ cancer or make it spread in some way?
Alie said this one is tougher to answer without knowing the specific patient, but the Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages talking to your medical care team about your personal risk for insulin resistance. By making simple changes to keep blood sugar and insulin levels in a healthy range, you can make positive improvements in your diet and to your health. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight and move more (mentioned above), spread out your carbohydrate intake by eating small, frequent meals, and manage your total carbohydrate intake by balancing your plate with half vegetables, fruits, and or beans, a quarter with starches, and a quarter with lean protein sources. Select foods as close to their natural form as possible, meaning try to eat them as they “came out of the ground or off the plant or tree”. Less processed carbohydrates are healthier because they provide other “cancer-fighting” nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
More advice for nutrition after cancer treatment
Overall, Alie says, “Eating a well-balanced diet that focuses on whole, plant-based foods and adding in exercise are two pieces of advice I give to everyone. Cancer treatment can make obtaining the nutrients you need difficult. If you or a loved one are struggling with nutrition, a great reference is the book Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment, from the National Cancer Institute. The book covers common types of eating problems and ways to manage them. Always be sure to talk with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian about any problems that affect you during your cancer treatment so they can suggest additional education or resources. It is important to remember that each patient’s journey is different, so if you have individualized questions, reach out to your medical team."
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Cooking for Wellness classes or the Cancer Survivorship Wellness program held at The Christ Hospital Cancer Center, and. They’re a great place to learn hands-on cooking skills and also a variety of topics designed to help you thrive in survivorship, while meeting fellow survivors going through the same things you are.
When you do a 180, you turn your life around! The Christ Hospital Health Network's 180 Project encourages small changes that can make a big impact on your health. Stay tuned to Healthspirations and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more content designed to help you get started making your health and wellness a priority.