Eating right is an important part of living a healthy life. But for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, it is especially crucial for treatment and helps your body have the best chance to fight the good fight.
Kathleen Newman, senior clinical dietitian at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, works with patients to help them decipher some misinformation and confusing rumors, while developing an eating plan that's right for them. Here is Newman's advice on eating healthy:
Nutrition, under the best circumstances, can be a confusing subject. Add a diagnosis of cancer to the mix, and you are instantly overwhelmed.
Sometimes patients wonder if a healthier diet would have prevented their cancer diagnosis. And many newly diagnosed patients feel the need to straighten up their nutritional acts immediately.
Most patients can control what they eat in this newly strange and uncomfortable world of tests, therapy options, regimented treatments, medications and side effects. They scour the Internet and seek the advice of relatives, friends and acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenges.
As a dietitian certified in oncology nutrition, I meet many cancer patients who feel confused about their diets. My goal is to help simplify good, solid and achievable nutritional advice founded in chronic disease prevention. At the same time, I promote and support wellbeing, healing and an individual’s active participation with their medical team in their treatment and recovery plan.
Remember, no matter your situation or stage in life, there is never a bad time to work on improving health and wellbeing.
As a cancer patient, what I should eat?
I encourage every patient to eat a daily minimum of eight servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of whole grains, healthy fats, lean meats or alternatives (if desired). I also recommend drinking adequate fluids (ideally water) and minimizing alcohol consumption. Patients should indulge in exercise, as they're able, and stress reduction (lots of laugher).
Can a healthier diet prevent a cancer diagnosis?
Research has shown that about 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption and/or poor nutrition. The American Cancer Society advocates that besides quitting smoking, some of the most important things we can do to help reduce our cancer risk are:
- Get to a healthy weight and stay there throughout life.
- Be physically active on a regular basis.
- Make healthy food choices, with a focus on plant-based foods.
Are there any food or drinks cancer patients should avoid?
There are no foods that should be specifically avoided during cancer treatment. Because nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment, eating the right kinds of foods before, during and after treatment can help you feel better and stay stronger. The American Cancer Society's nutrition guidelines recommend limiting the amount of red meat you eat, especially those that are processed or high in fat, and cutting back on fat, sugar, alcohol and salt.
Maintaining a healthy weight is also advised but can be difficult if you have side effects and don’t feel well during treatment. You might need to change your diet to help build up your strength, which may mean eating foods that aren’t normally recommended when you are in good health.
For instance, you may need high-fat, high-calorie foods to keep up your weight. Or you might need thick, cool foods like ice cream or milk shakes because sores in your mouth and throat are making it hard to eat anything. It is important to meet with an oncology dietitian to discuss this if you have questions.
Should cancer patients develop an eating plan tailored to their diagnosis?
While there is no need to develop a specific eating plan, people who eat well are usually better able to cope with treatment side effects. It is important to eat regular meals and snacks, spaced evenly throughout the day – whether you are hungry or not – and meet your fluid goals.
Still have questions about eating during cancer treatment?
For cancer patients who still have questions about their diet, here is a list of resources to help you sift through the overwhelming amount of information:
Patients currently receiving treatment at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center:
- Find information on how connect with a registered dietitian via the Cancer Center's Counseling, Nutrition and Other Support Services or call 916-734-5959.
- Ask any Cancer Center team member about a referral to a registered dietitian.
Other online resources: