After a person is diagnosed with cancer, he/she tends to re-evaluate their lifestyle, diet and health practices. Many patients start by making significant dietary changes in order to improve their treatment outcomes recovery. Nutrition plays an important role in the clinical course for a cancer patient, as it helps maintain healthy body weight and support healing, repair and recovery
There is not enough scientific evidence and research to support claims that consuming specific food types can reduce or promote survivorship for a particular type of cancer.
In general, cancer patients need extra calories and proteins to cope with the treatment. Of course, no magic food can fully protect you from cancer or completely slow its growth. In fact, the American Cancer Society doesn’t recommend eating specific foods bus instead suggests “following a healthy eating pattern”. A diet that includes high nutrient food, whole grains, and a variety of fruits and vegetables is an excellent place to start
Here are some basic tips while undergoing cancer treatment:
- Divide your three large meals into several small meals which are eaten throughout the day. Eating small frequent meals are gut friendly.
- Eat your small meals with a gap of a few hours, don’t wait till you feel hungry
- Sprinkle some nuts or seeds over salad or dessert
- When you feel very hungry, eat your biggest meal. For instance, make breakfast your biggest meal, if you feel most hungry in the morning
- Have high-protein beverages
- Maintain adequate hydration. Drink fluids between meals instead of having them with your meals
- Take a walk or light exercise before meals to improve your appetite.
- Don’t resist your cravings, if you feel like having your favorite food, eat it
- Avoid spicy food and fried food items
- Try eating a fresh meal every time
- Pulses, paneer, soya-bean, chickpea, dry foods, chicken, fish and eggs are protein rich food and should be included in your meals
Superfood is a relatively new term and refers to foods that claim to have exceptional health benefits. Superfoods are foods-mostly plant based but also include some fish and dairy- that are thought to be nutritionally dense and thus, good for one’s health. Of late superfoods have become a term that is synonymous with ultra-healthy, nutrient-packed, plant-based foods and supplements. Superfoods are easy on the stomach, are easy to prepare and are packed with nutrients that can help deal with the side effects of cancer treatment.
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Superfood per se do not have enough scientific evidence and research to support its role in reducing the risk or promoting survivorship for a particular kind of cancer. The following are some of the superfoods that can be included in the diet of cancer patient:
- Berries and other fruits: The have high water content and are refreshing. These include berries, amla, melons bananas, pineapple, pears etc. Blueberries contain several phytochemicals and nutrients, which show-anticancer effects, antioxidant activity, and a potential to prevent DNA damage. Raspberries and strawberries are rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin C, phytochemicals called anthocyanins and flavonoids. Anthocyanins slow the growth of premalignant cells
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain phytochemical called lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant and may be associated with a risk of prostate cancer
- Dark leafy vegetables: Dark leafy vegetables like kale and spinach play an important role in fighting against cancer. They are rich in fibers and folate which may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Kale contains carotenoids and antioxidants which inhibits the formation of carcinogen. Spinach is rich in carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein which remove free radicals from the body
- Carrots: Carrots are non-starchy vegetables containing beta-carotene, vitamins and phytochemicals which may protect against various cancer. A report suggests that cooked carrots supply more antioxidants than raw.
- Whole grains: Whole grains promote digestive health as they are rich in fiber, carbohydrate phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains contain certain substances that fight against cancer, including saponins, which prevent multiplication of cancer cells, and lignans, which act as an antioxidant.
- Meat and poultry: Poultry, meat, fish are all good sources of protein. Good protein sources help to gain muscle mass. Eat only properly cooked eggs and meat, avoid any kind of raw consumption
- Walnuts: All nuts pack a nutritious punch. But walnuts may stand out for their cancer fighting properties. Walnuts contain bioactive compounds like omega-3 fatty acids and tocopherols that have properties which suppress tumour growth
- Garlic: Research suggests that garlic could play a role in cancer prevention by influencing gene expression. Garlic may “turn on” genes that suppress the formation of tumour.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower contain phytochemicals called glucosinolates, which may decrease inflammation, boost protective enzymes and flush-out cancer causing chemicals
- Yoghurt: Unsweetened yoghurt promotes digestion, is rich in certain proteins and is easy to consume. Adding fruits, berries and dry fruits can add to its nutritive value
- Soy: Soy contains a phytonutrient called isoflavones, which has anti-cancer properties. Moderate amounts of soy, which is one or two servings of whole soy food such as soy milks and tofu are safe.
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What Not to Eat
Red and Processed Meats: Research has found that red meats and processed meats-transformed to increase shelf life or enhance flavor-may increase the risk of cancer. In 2015, World health Organization (WHO) announced that processed meat consumption is carcinogenic. The WHO reported that red meat is probably carcinogenic and may increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. In 2021, a study published in Cancer Discovery revealed that the colorectal tumours of people with diets high in red meat and processed meats had a specific pattern of DNA damage.
Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for developing cancer. WHO in its recent research, has clearly stated that consuming any amount or type of alcohol increases risk of developing cancer. No amount of alcohol consumption can be considered as safe. Alcohol increases the risks of esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, oral cavity and larynx cancer
It is important to understand that, nothing you eat-or don’t eat-will eliminate your cancer risk, but a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help decrease the odds. It’s important to discuss dietary changes with your primary care physician and nutritionist.