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The Right Diet for Cancer Survivors

Dt. Dhanalakshmi

If you’re battling cancer, adopting a right diet can help maintain your strength & boost your emotional well being as you go through the treatment.

While there are no magic foods or diet plans that guarantee to cure or prevent cancer, lifestyle factors – including your diet – does make a huge difference in lowering your risk. And if you’re currently battling cancer, adopting a right diet can help maintain your strength and boost your emotional well being as you go through the treatment. Also, avoiding foods that increase your risk of cancer & eating more of those that support your immune system, can better protect your health & boost your ability to fight off cancer.

 DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR CANCER PREVENTION

  • Maintain body weight range within the normal BMI range, starting from the age of 21.
  • Avoid weight gain and increases in waist circumference through adulthood.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that promote weight gain
  • Consume energy-dense foods sparingly (high calories for amount and few nutrients).

 

What Are Energy-Dense Foods? *

 

■ Sugary drinks—soft drinks, sweetened iced tea, juice flavored drinks

■ Baked goods such as desserts, cookies, pastries, and cakes

■ Candy

■ Chips such as potato and corn

■ Ice cream, milkshakes

■ Processed meat—hotdogs, salami, pepperoni

■ Fast food such as French fries, fried chicken, and burgers

■ Packaged and processed foods high in added sugars and fats

 

*Foods containing more than 225–275 calories per 100 grams (3 ½ ounces)

  • Consume “fast-foods” sparingly, if at all
  • Eat at least five portions/servings of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits every day. Examples of a serving: 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables or 1 medium apple
  • Eat whole grains and/or legumes (beans and lentils) with every meal

DIETARY GUIDELINES DURING AND AFTER CANCER TREATMENT

Suggestions for managing common eating difficulties during and after treatment

  1. Changes in appetite and unwanted weight loss:

Loss of appetite is common in people with cancer and can lead to weight loss and undernutrition (malnutrition). Poor nutrition can slow the body’s ability to heal. Severe malnutrition can interfere with proper functioning of the heart, liver, kidneys, and immune system.

The following guidelines may help to improve the appetite and maintaining calorie and protein intake during cancer treatment:

  • Eat five or six smaller meals per day
  • Eat the largest meal when you are hungriest
  • Start with high-protein foods while your appetite is strongest
  • Try to be as physically active – to help stimulate your appetite
  1. Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be caused by chemotherapy or from radiation therapy to the stomach, abdomen, or brain.

  • Eat small amounts of food more often
  • Small portions of meals and snacks are often easier to tolerate than large
  • Eating foods and sipping on clear liquids at room temperature or cooler may be easier to tolerate
  • Avoid high-fat, greasy, spicy, or overly sweet foods
  • Avoid foods with strong odours
  • Sip on beverages between meals rather than with meals.
  • Eat sitting up and keep head raised for about an hour after eating
  • For vomiting, avoid eating or drinking until vomiting is controlled—then try sipping on small amounts of clear liquids such as cranberry juice or broth. Nibbling on plain foods such as crackers may also help.
  • Take anti-nausea medicine as prescribed. If it is not controlling symptoms, contact your healthcare professional regarding the prescribed the anti-nausea medicine, and let him or her know what is happening.
  1. Fatigue

Fatigue is the most common side effect for those diagnosed with cancer. It can be related to cancer itself or can be one of the effects of cancer treatment.

  • Try to drink plenty of fluids. Being dehydrated can make fatigue worse. Aim for at least 8 cups of hydrating fluid each day unless advised to restrict fluids for another medical condition. Hydrating fluids include water, clear juices, sports drinks, broth, or weak tea.
  1. Diarrhoea
    Diarrhoea can be caused by the cancer itself, certain chemotherapy agents and medicines, or because of radiation therapy to the abdomen and pelvis.
  • Drink plenty of liquids such as water, clear juices, sports drinks, broth, weak tea, or oral rehydration solutions.
  • Eat small amounts of soft, bland foods. Consider a diet that consists of water-soluble fibre containing foods such as bananas, white rice, applesauce, and white toast.
  • Decrease intake of high fibre foods during this time. These include foods containing nuts and seeds, raw vegetables and fruits, and whole grain breads and cereals.
  • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day rather than fewer large meals.
  • Take anti-diarrhoea medicine as prescribed. If the medicine is not controlling the diarrhoea, call the healthcare professional that prescribed the medicine.  
  1. Constipation
  • Drink more healthy beverages to help keep your digestive system moving, especially water, prune juice, warm juices, decaffeinated teas, and hot lemonade
  • Increase intake of high-fibre foods such as whole grains, fresh and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, and foods containing peels, nuts, and seeds
  • Increase your physical activity if you are able to — taking a walk or doing limited exercise every day will help
  • Include stool softeners and gentle, non-habit-forming laxatives.

         6. Changes in Taste, Smell and Sour mouth

  • Eat soft, moist foods with extra sauces, dressings, or gravies.
  • Avoid dry, coarse or rough foods.
  • Avoid alcohol, citrus, caffeine, vinegar, spicy foods, and acidic foods (like tomatoes).
  • Experiment with temperatures of foods (warm, cool, or icy) to find which temperature is the most soothing
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Focus on warm or cool milk-based beverages, non-acidic fruit drinks (diluted if necessary), “flat” carbonated beverages, and cream or broth-based soups
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with 1 to 2 ounces of homemade salt and baking soda solution (one quart of water combined with one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of baking soda). Sip, swish, and then spit the solution to rinse and clean your mouth. Do not swallow.
  1. Low White Blood Cell Counts and Infection
    Follow these ‘safe food’ suggestions if your white blood cell counts are low:
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked animal products, including meat, pork, game, poultry, eggs, and fish
  • Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid eating foods from salad bars, delicatessens, buffets, and smorgasbords
  • Do not drink untested well water or water directly from lakes, rivers, streams, or springs — if using filtered water, change the filter regularly.

Food Safety Tips

These food safety tips are especially important for people undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment:

  • Wash hands frequently. Use plenty of soap and hot running water for at least twenty seconds. Use hand sanitizer for cleaning hands when soap and water are not available. Wash or sanitize hands: After using the restroom. Before eating. Before and after each step of food preparation. After handling garbage. After touching pets. After sweeping the floor or wiping down the counters
  • Keep cutting boards, countertops, and utensils thoroughly cleaned. Change, launder and discard sponges and dish towels often
  • Separate and do not cross-contaminate
    • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from ready-to-eat foods.
    • Always use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, and fish.
    • Keep a food thermometer to cook thoroughly at proper internal temperatures:
          • Steaks and roasts—145º F
          • Fish—145º F. Pork—160º F
          • Egg dishes—160º F
          • Chicken breast—165º F
          • Whole poultry—165º F
  • Properly wrap and refrigerate foods promptly. Refrigerate or freeze leftover foods within one hour to limit the growth of bacteria.
  • Set the refrigerator between 34º F and 40º F
  • Keep the freezer set to 0–2º F or below
  • Thaw frozen meat and poultry in the refrigerator, microwave, or cold water. Do not leave it out on the kitchen counter. Pay attention to food product expiration dates. If in doubt, throw it out.

Physical Activity and Its Role in Survivorship

Many cancer survivors find that they feel better if they incorporate healthy behaviours into their daily routine. Eating right for your health needs and including some exercise that relates to your recovery needs may improve how you feel. It may also reduce your risk for cancer and other major health problems. Ask your healthcare team about your particular risk factors so you know what things you should avoid

You may not feel like exercising because of fatigue and other side effects but, becoming physically active can help you feel more energetic. The long-term benefits include enhanced bone and muscle strength, better circulation, and improved mood. In addition, physical activity seems to protect against cancer and promote health both directly and indirectly.

Directly, getting regular activity may:

  • Reduce the body’s levels of estrogen and other hormones that could promote cancer
  • Help to reduce inflammation

Indirectly, physical activity may:

  • Reduce the risk of unwanted weight gain when combined with a sensible, healthy diet. That is important because carrying excess fat is itself a risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, oesophageal cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and gallbladder cancer.

Getting Regular Physical Activity Every Day Can Help People with Cancer to:

  • Recover quickly
  • Have a better quality of life, including getting support from peers and instructors in physical activity classes
  • Improve mood and thinking
  • Help to reduce joint pain associated with some breast cancer treatment medications (such as aromatase inhibitors)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors

  • Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following diagnosis
  • Aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week
  • Include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week (exercises in which you work against resistance such as weights) — with your healthcare provider’s approval
  • Start very slowly—a few minutes of a recommended activity such as walking or riding a stationary bike each day is a good way to get started
  • Do very easy movements for short periods of time each day, even if just a few minutes. If you can, get started under the guidance of a physical therapist or certified fitness trainer
  • Take short walks in a safe, low-stress environment
  • Ask your healthcare team about having a cancer rehabilitation assessment (many insurers now cover a certain amount of rehabilitation for individuals with cancer).

Diet and Lifestyle in Reducing the Risk of Cancer Recurrence

  • Having a healthy weight seems to establish a biochemical status or “anti-cancer” environment that discourages cancer growth
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Be physically active as part of everyday wellness
  • Limit consumption of red and processed meats
  • Limit alcoholic beverages
  • Avoid sugary drinks and energy-dense foods
  • Do not use tobacco products
  • Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium)
  • Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone

If you need further help in planning out your diet, you should consult with a nutritionist immediately who will then help you chalk out a diet plan suited to your needs after knowing your medical history. The mfine app gives you access to the city’s best nutritionists, dietitians and oncologists for an online consultation, the minute you need to.

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