After being diagnosed with cancer, many people look to make positive changes in their lives. Taking steps to lead a healthier life is often part of these changes.
It can help to talk to a dietitian, your GP, or cancer specialist before changing your diet. For most people, a balanced diet includes:
- Servings of fruits and vegetables.
- Carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, and potatoes.
- Some protein-rich foods like beef, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs, and legumes.
- Some dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk.
- Small quantities of foods that are fatty, salty, or rich in sugar.
- Drinks should consist primarily of water, tea, and coffee (without sugar) or sugar-free drinks like cola and other carbonated beverages.
What we eat affects our health. Up to 10% of cancers may be linked to our diet. Research shows that being overweight may be a contributing factor in 7% of cancers in women. Lack of fruits and vegetables may also be behind 6% of cancer cases in men. Though we must continue researching on substances that increase our risk of developing cancer, we do know what kinds of foods can keep us healthy.
HOW CAN A HEALTHY DIET BE BENEFICIAL?
A balanced diet and physical activity have many health benefits. They can help reduce our risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Also, they can help us maintain a healthy weight, which can lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
If you are trying to lose weight, it is important that you make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need. You diet should include fruits and vegetables and should contain a limited intake of fat and sugar. Staying active can also help you control your weight. Your GP or dentist can give you advice on what your ideal weight is and can help you reach it.
HOW CAN I MAINTAIN A HEALTHY DIET?
Making changes to eat healthier foods may seem like a challenge. Try improving your diet gradually. You can use the opportunity to discover and try new foods. It can take time to find a diet that works, though your GP or dietitian can give you advice. Making changes gradually and setting small, reachable goals can help.
Alcohol can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
A balanced diet is made up of different kinds of food. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and include foods that are high in starch, such as grains, bread, and pasta. Your body also needs proteins, which are found in foods like fish and meats. You should try to limit your intake of foods rich in fat, sugar, and salt.
Food labels can serve as a guide and help you choose more suitable options.
HOW YOUR BODY MAKES USE OF FOOD
A balanced diet will give you everything needed to keep your body working well. Foods are broken down into food groups, all of which are used by our bodies in different ways. The food groups include:
- Carbohydrates – converted into glucose to give us energy. Energy is measured in calories. If we consume too many calories, we put on weight. Men need about 2,500 calories a day, and women need about 2,000.
- Proteins – the amino acids contained in these foods help the body build muscle and repair tissue. Eating protein is important when we are ill.
- Fats – provide the body with condensed energy.
- Vitamins and minerals – help our body function normally. Minerals help keep our bones and nerves system healthy.
- Fluids – for our body to function properly, it needs liquids. Try to drink 1.5 liters of fluids each day.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DIET
People often ask if what they eat can reduce the risk of their cancer coming back. This issue is the subject of a great deal of research. We still do not have clear enough information to make accurate recommendations on what kind of food a person with a given type of cancer should eat. In general, cancer experts recommend a healthy, balanced diet.
For most people, the factors that tend to have the high impact on health include diet, body weight, and regular physical activity. By combining these factors, people tend to have better results than by taking care of just one.
Your medical care team are the best-suited people to give you advice on what you can do to reduce the risk of your cancer returning.
- WHAT FOODS SHOULD I AVOID?
Make sure eggs are fully cooked. If you have reduced immunity, avoid paté, raw eggs, yogurt with Bifidus and cheese made from unpasteurized milk such as brie and other cheeses. These foods may contain harmful bacteria.
If you are receiving high-dose chemotherapy, your medical team may suggest that you stay away from certain foods.
- SHOULD I TAKE DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS?
For most people, a balanced diet provides all the nutrients the body needs, and large doses of vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements are not recommended. However, people who have difficulty eating a balanced diet can benefit from taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement that contains 100% of the recommended daily allowance.
Supplements can help in some cases, as in people who cannot absorb all the nutrients they need because of surgery to treat stomach cancer. People at higher risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis) may benefit from taking calcium supplements and vitamin D to help strengthen their bones.
Several studies have looked at whether taking supplements can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. However, the results of these studies have been disappointing, and overall the evidence indicates that taking supplements does not reduce the risk of cancer. There is even evidence that indicates that taking high amounts of supplements can increase the risk of developing cancer in some people.
One study found that people who smoke are more prone to developing cancer if they take beta-carotene supplements (a substance that the body uses to make vitamin A). And the findings of another study suggest that in high doses, beta-carotene and vitamin A can increase a person s risk of developing throat and stomach cancer.
Some supplements may interfere with how cancer treatments work, making them less effective. So if you are currently receiving cancer treatment, it is important to get advice from your cancer specialist before taking any kind of supplement. They can advise you on what you should take and what dose is best for you.
- DO SUPERFOODS EXIST?
There is no scientific evidence that any particular food is a "superfood." The greatest health benefit is probably derived from a balanced diet that includes a combination of a wide variety of foods. Fruits and vegetables contain many substances that could have properties that prevent cancer. However, we do not know this for sure at the moment.
So instead of searching for a "superfood," it is better to have a diet like the ones recommended in the healthy-eating guides. This will help you be sure that you are receiving the greatest possible variety of these substances. It will also make your diet more pleasant and interesting—and probably cheaper.
- SHOULD I FOLLOW A DAIRY-FREE DIET?
Many studies have searched for a link between diets that are high in dairy products and cancer (especially breast and prostate cancer). But they have not been able to find a clear connection. As a result, cancer experts do not recommend a dairy-free diet as a means of reducing the risk of cancer.
Dairy products are an important source of protein, calcium, and certain vitamins, though they can also have a high fat content. Choose low-fat products so you don't gain weight. Calcium is necessary to have strong bones, and can help reduce the risk of intestinal cancer. So if you decide to follow a dairy-free diet, you need to be sure that you get enough calcium from other food sources, such as canned sardines and salmon, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, or fortified foods, such as certain types of soy milk.
CANCER AND SUGAR
The sugar you have in your diet is not directly related to cancer risk. Aside from energy, sugar does not contain useful nutrients, and we can get all the energy we need from healthy food sources. So it is best to limit the amount of sugar in your diet.
SHOULD I ONLY EAT ORGANIC FOODS?
Many wonder if they should follow an organic diet to prevent cancer from coming back. Studies examining the nutritional benefits of organically grown fruits and vegetables have had mixed results. Some conclude that organic fruits and vegetables are tastier and stay fresh for longer. Until now, no research has been conducted to determine whether an organic diet is more effective in stopping cancer recurrence or appearance than a non-organic diet.
Genetically modified foods have been shown to be safe over the seven years they have been being grown. However, some people may feel that the long-term effects remain unknown.
In the end, the decision of whether or not to buy organic or non-organic produce is a personal one. Currently, it is recommended to fully wash non-organic and organic fruits and vegetables before using them in order to eliminate any type of pesticides.
DO ANTI-CANCER DIETS WORK?
In recent years there has been much publicity surrounding alternative diets for cancer treatment. It is understandable for people to be attracted to diets that appear to offer hope for a cure. However, there is no evidence indicating that these diets can increase a person's chance of survival or cure the disease.
Some people feel satisfied by following these special diets, though others find them rather boring and even unpleasant. Some of these may be lacking in important nutrients or cause other kinds of imbalance, and others may even be harmful.
Recommendations on what to eat can be contradictory and confusing, though most doctors and specialist nurses recommend a well-balanced and pleasant diet.