Powerful Nutrition During Cancer Treatment
Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other cancer treatments can be hard on your body. Your diet is an important part of your cancer treatment. Eating well while you are being treated for cancer can help you:
- feel better
- keep up your strength and energy
- tolerate treatment-related side effects
- lower your risk of infection
- recover and heal from surgery
Eating well means eating a variety of foods that will give you the nutrients you need to protect your health while fighting cancer.
We need protein to repair our body, keep our immune system healthy and fight fatigue. When your body doesn't get enough protein, it takes you longer to recover from illness and you may have a lower resistance to infection. People with cancer often need more protein than usual. After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and to help prevent infection. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts and nut butters, dried beans, peas and lentils, soy foods and some whole grains such as quinoa.
Check out Increasing Protein in Your Diet for tips on getting more protein in your diet.
Fats and oils provide energy for the body. They are used to store energy, insulate body tissues, and transport some types of vitamins through the blood. You may have heard that some fats are better for you than others. Unsaturated fats are better for your heart. These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Monounsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. They are liquid at room temperature.
- Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, flaxseed, and canola oils. Polyunsaturated fats are also the main fats found in seafood. Good sources of seafood high in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines and trout. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid or soft at room temperature.
- Saturated fats are mainly found in animal sources such as meat and poultry, whole fat dairy products, and butter. Some vegetable oils like coconut, palm kernel oil, and palm oil are saturated fats. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. Limit your intake of these foods high in saturated fats.
- Trans fatty acids are formed when vegetable oils are processed into margarine or shortening. Sources of trans fats include snack foods and baked goods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable shortening. Try to avoid trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats.
Carbohydrates give the body the fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function. The best sources of carbohydrates -- fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- supply needed vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients to the body’s cells. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables – these are high in fiber, antioxidants and other cancer-fighting chemicals. Choose breads, cereals, cracker and pasta made with whole grains. Look for “whole grain” on nutrition food labels as one of the first ingredients of the product. Other sources of carbohydrates include potatoes, dried beans, corn, and peas. Sweets (desserts, candy, and drinks with sugar) supply carbohydrates, but provide very few nutrients. Limit these in your diet.
Water and fluids are vital to our health. All body cells need water to function. If you do not take in enough fluids or if you are vomiting or have diarrhea, you may become dehydrated. In general, a person should drink about eight 8-oz. glasses of water or clear liquid each day to be sure that all the body cells get the fluid they need.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are needed for proper growth and development. They also allow the body to use the energy (calories) supplied in foods. A person who eats a balanced diet with enough calories and protein usually gets plenty of vitamins and minerals. But, it can be hard to eat a balanced diet when you are being treated for cancer and have treatment side effects that impact your ability to take in eat well. If that is the case, ask your health care team if you should take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement. Some people with cancer take large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements to try and boost their immune system or even destroy cancer cells. Some of these substances can be harmful, especially when taken in large doses. In fact, large doses of some vitamins and minerals may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Antioxidants are substances that protect the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals (by-products of the body’s normal processes). Examples of antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A (beta carotene), and selenium. If you want to take in more antioxidants eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of antioxidants. Taking large doses of antioxidant supplements is usually not recommended while having chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any supplements you take or are interested in taking.
Sources: American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute