Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after cancer treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger.
Nutrition and diet during cancer treatment Good nutrition is important for everyone, but it is especially important if you have cancer.
Cancer patients' nutritional requirements during treatment vary depending on the type of cancer, the treatments they receive, and the side effects they experience. Your cancer care team can assist you in identifying your nutrition goals and devising strategies to help you achieve them. Eating well while undergoing cancer treatment may benefit you in the following ways:
These nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals.
Everyone requires protein to grow, repair body tissue, and maintain a healthy immune system. When your body doesn't get enough protein from the foods you eat, it may turn to the protein stored in your muscles for energy. It may take you longer to heal and recover if this occurs. Cancer patients frequently require more protein than usual. Extra protein is usually required after surgery or other cancer treatment to help heal tissues and fight infection.
There are two kinds of proteins: animal proteins and plant proteins. Fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, and low-fat dairy products are all good sources of healthy animal proteins. Everyone should limit the amount of red and processed meat they eat. Plant-based proteins are foods like nuts and nut butters, seeds, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods.
Fats and oils are energy sources for the body. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissues, and transport some vitamins through the blood. You may have heard that some fats are better for you than others. When considering the effects of fats on your heart and cholesterol level, choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats.
Monounsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils like olive, canola, and peanut oils.
Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, and flaxseed. They are also the main fats found in seafood.
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal sources like meat and poultry, whole or reduced-fat milk, cheese, and butter. Some vegetable oils like coconut, palm kernel oil, and palm oil are saturated. Saturated fats can raise cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.
Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are processed into solids, such as margarine or shortening. These fats are being removed from the food supply, but may still be found in snack foods and baked goods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable shortening. Trans fats are also found naturally in some animal products, like full-fat dairy products. For health, avoid processed food that contain trans fats.
Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source. Carbohydrates provide energy to the body for physical activity and organ function. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best sources of carbohydrates because they also provide fibre, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients to the body's cells. (Phytonutrients are natural, healthy substances found in plant foods.)
Whole grains and foods made from them contain all of the naturally occurring nutrients found in the entire grain seed. Cereals, breads, and flours all contain whole grains. Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and barley can be used as side dishes or as part of an entrée.
Fibre is a component of plant foods that the human body cannot digest. Fiber is classified into two types. Insoluble fibre aids in the rapid elimination of waste from the body, whereas soluble fibre binds with water in the stool to keep it soft. Bread, potatoes, rice, spaghetti, pasta, cereals, corn, peas, and beans are all good sources of carbohydrates.
All body cells need water to function. If you don’t take in enough fluids or if you lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea, you can become dehydrated (your body doesn’t have as much fluid as it should). You get water from the foods you eat, but a person should also drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day to be sure that all the body cells get the fluids they need. To help increase your fluid intake, include hydrating drinks like juices, sports drinks, and caffeine-free liquids. Keep in mind that all fluids (soups, milk, even ice cream and gelatin) count toward your fluid goals.
The body needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals to help it function properly. Most are found naturally in foods. They are also sold as pill and liquid supplements. They help the body use the energy (calories) found in foods.
If you’re thinking of taking a vitamin or supplement, be sure to discuss this with your cancer care team first. Some can be harmful, especially when taken in large doses. In fact, large doses of some vitamins and minerals may make cancer treatments less effective.
Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from the oxidation process that occurs during metabolism. They include vitamins A, C, and E, as well as selenium and zinc, as well as other phytonutrients such as carotenoids and flavonoids and some enzymes. Fruits, vegetables, and other foods naturally contain antioxidants. If you are considering taking antioxidant supplements, consult with your cancer care team first.
Phytonutrients and phytochemicals are natural substances found in plants that give them their colour. Antioxidants, like vitamins, are best obtained through diet rather than supplementation.
People have used herbs in foods as medicine for thousands of years to help manage disease with mixed results. Today, herbs are found in many dietary products and supplements, like pills, liquid extracts, teas, and ointments. Many of these products are safe to use, but others can cause harmful side effects. Some can even interfere with your cancer treatments prescribed by your doctor. If you’re thinking about using products containing herbs, always talk with your cancer care team or dietitian first.
Many people believe that if they find a pill or supplement in stores, it’s safe and it works. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rules to help make sure that supplements contain the ingredients listed on the label. But information about the supplement’s safety and its effects on the body are not required by the FDA rules.
The FDA does not make manufacturers of these products print possible side effects on their labels. And the FDA can’t pull a dietary supplement or herbal product from the market unless they have proof that the product is unsafe. Tell your cancer care team about any over-the-counter products or supplements you are using or are thinking about using. Some other safety tips: