Eat Well, Feel Better During Cancer Treatment
Eating well during cancer treatment has a direct impact on the body. It helps to improve overall wellbeing, enhances response to treatment, enables health maintenance during treatment, and decreases recovery time. Here are some specific nutrition guidelines to make the best food choices throughout cancer treatment.
Eat a wide variety of colors of fruits and vegetables everyday.
- Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals that fight against cancer. Each color contains a different phytochemical. A wide variety of colors introduces more types of these cancer fighting chemicals into the body.
- Choose organic varieties when available to limit exposure to chemicals and pesticides. Wash all fruits and vegetables very well.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great alternative to fresh and are easy to have available when treatments are so time consuming.
Choose complex carbohydrates for increased energy.
- Select complex carbohydrates like whole grains (oats, wheat, brown rice, whole grain pasta) and whole fruits and vegetables.
- Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly due to their high fiber content, providing sustained energy.
- Choose grain products that have whole wheat or a whole grain flour listed as one of the first 3 ingredients. Avoid highly processed and refined grains (white enriched flour, baked goods, snack foods, sweets).
- A serving of whole grain is one slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta, and ½ cup of whole grain cold cereals and oatmeal.
Be sure to get an adequate amount of lean protein.
- Protein helps the body to repair cells and tissues. It also aids in the recovery and maintenance of the immune system.
- Choose lean protein such as beans, fish, and omega 3 rich eggs. Eat white meat chicken and turkey. Limit red meat, pork, and dark meat poultry. Choose organic, locally farmed, free range, and grain fed when available. Other good sources of protein are dairy products, nuts, and tofu.
- Have a protein serving at every meal and snack.
Incorporate good fats into meals and snacks.
- Eliminate fried foods and eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados, fish, and nuts.
- Avoid trans fats and avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated oils.
Limit sweets and simple sugars. Avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Choose fruit to satisfy cravings for sweets. Sweets provide the body with empty calories and no nutritional value.
- Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that is an acceptable alternative to sugar, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin.
Drink plenty of water.
- Staying hydrated during treatment is essential. Too much caffeine may lead to dehydration.
- Green tea and white tea are also good beverage options for staying hydrated with some additional antioxidants.
- Aim for 64 ounces per day. Start slowly and gradually increase water intake.
Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
- Smaller meals help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
- Smaller meals may help to minimize treatment related side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Maintain weight during cancer treatment.
- Strict dieting is not recommended during cancer treatment. Eat healthy by following the guidelines on this handout. Inadequately fueling the body can lead to decreased ability to fight infection and reduced energy levels.
- It is normal for weight to fluctuate some during treatment. Drastic weight gain or weight loss is not recommended.
- If weight loss becomes an issue during treatment, these guidelines may be altered to more adequately meet nutrition needs. A nutrition supplement may also be necessary.
- For guidance on any weight issue, consult with a registered dietitian.
Prepare and store food safely.
- Wash hands often while preparing food and strive to minimize risk for food borne illness. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables as well as separate knives. Refrigerate leftovers right away.
- To minimize exposure to germs, avoid salad bars and buffets during treatment.
- Getting some physical activity is very beneficial during treatment. It does not have to be strenuous. Walking is fine. Exercise causes the release of endorphins (feel good chemicals in the brain) and helps in maintaining muscle mass, strength, and stamina.
- Be realistic and start slowly. Exercise can help to minimize stress and depression. It can also help alleviate constipation.
- Choose food first as the primary source for vitamin and minerals. Ask a registered dietitian for guidance on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition supplements.
Do not start taking anything new during treatment without alerting your healthcare team first. There is potential interaction between some medications as well as supplements.
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
- Alcohol may contribute to dehydration, impair the immune system, and place added stress on the liver.
- Alcohol, like simple sugars, provides empty calories without any nutrients.
- During treatment many health care providers recommend avoiding alcohol.