A quick google search for cancer + nutrition will result in a plethora of information. You’ll even find some people claiming that nutrition can cure cancer. Unfortunately, there is no current evidence to support that any specific foods or diets can cure cancer. However, this does not mean that you should disregard nutrition as part of your cancer journey!
Nutrition is important to consider as part of your cancer treatment with research showing that diet can;
- Support your immune system, helping you to fight off infections
- Increase energy levels and strength
- Improve wound healing and recovery from surgery
- Improve treatment outcomes
- Maintain weight or prevent weight and muscle loss
- Help your body cope with side effects better
- Improve mood
- Potentially reduce your risk of developing additional cancers in the future
What should you eat during cancer treatment?
In general, it’s recommended to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy. However, during cancer treatment this can be difficult due to a range of side effects such as nausea or reduced appetite. We have put together a list of our top tips to help you meet your nutrient requirements during cancer treatment;
- Eat small more frequent meals, every 2-3 hours if you are experiencing a low appetite or nausea.
- Include a source of lean protein at each main meal such as high protein yoghurt, eggs, chicken breast, tofu or fish. Protein requirements are increased for many people undergoing cancer treatment and this helps to prevent weight and muscle loss.
- Choose cold, dry or bland foods such as toast, crackers, dry cereals, poached egg on toast or poached chicken breast with plain noodles when experiencing nausea.
- Make nourishing drinks with added protein and sip on them if your appetite is low or you are experiencing nausea e.g. Smoothie made with milk, high protein yoghurt, fruit, nuts and oats.
- Aim to include a variety of colored fruits and vegetables with your meals if possible e.g. adding berries to a smoothie or salad to your sandwiches.
- Plan ahead if possible. Have some meals prepped in your freezer for days where you don’t have enough energy to cook OR utilize frozen meals that contain at least 20g protein.
- Plan your meals around when you feel your best e.g. If your appetite is highest first thing in the morning, include a high protein, fibre rich meal for breakfast.
- If you are losing weight please chat to your GP and/or dietitian for individual advice.
Gentle exercise is also recommended to help improve mood and energy levels during treatment. We recommend working with an experienced exercise physiologist.
Debunking some common myths around nutrition and cancer
Follow a strict diet (low carb, paleo, alkaline diet, fasting) – The current evidence does NOT support the claims that these diets can help to treat or cure cancer. They can also make it harder for you to meet your nutrient requirements, lead to increased fatigue, lowered immunity and weight loss all of which can impact your cancer treatment.
Eliminating all red meat – whilst it IS recommended to reduce your intake of red meat and avoid/limit processed meat, there is no need to completely eliminate it. Aim to have red meat 2-3 times per week at most, selecting chicken, fish or vegetarian protein options instead.
Detoxing – Detoxing generally leads to highly restrictive eating and can result in you not meeting your energy and/or protein requirements. Our bodies do an amazing job at detoxing themselves, there is no need to do this through diet.
Sugar feeds cancer cells – Cancer cells in your body use sugar to grow, however; so do healthy cells. Even if you follow a sugar-free diet, these cells will still get the energy to grow from other sources. There is NO evidence to support that a sugar-free diet can help to treat cancer.
Diet can feel overwhelming especially during stressful times such as a cancer diagnosis. If you need more support, please reach out to the friendly dietitians at Eatsense for individual advice.
By Nicole Saliba
Accredited Practising Dietitian & Owner, Eatsense