Nutrition for Cancer Patients

Nutrition and Cancer

During cancer treatment, maintaining good nutrition is key to keeping your body at its optimal state so that your immune system, strength, and treatment tolerance are sustained throughout.  But where do you start? 

Most Cancer Guidelines Stress

  • Eating lots of vegetables and fruits (aim for more than five)
  • Eating dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables daily (broccoli, spinach, kale, etc).
  • Limiting the amount of red meat, sugar, and high-fat foods
  • Incorporating whole grains and legumes (whole wheat bread, brown rice, beans, etc.)
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Limit the amount of salt-cured, smoked, and pickled foods 
  • Drink fluids to stay hydrated

However, sometimes the nutritional needs for cancer patients may be different and their diet may veer away from the traditional guidelines to help keep up with the rigors of treatment as well as the healing process.  There becomes a focus on calorie dense foods and sometimes even not so healthy snacks to help patients maintain their energy levels. To fuel their bodies through cancer treatment, patients are often advised to increase their protein and calorie intake.  The extra protein and calories will assist with providing energy, healing tissues, and fighting off infections.  

Tips to Increase Protein and Calorie Intake:

  • Try to eat small, frequent snacks throughout the day.
  • Plan your biggest meal when hungriest.
  • Drink your fluids between meals instead of during to avoid feeling full faster.
  • Drink drinks that are high in calories such as a protein shake or milkshakes.
  • Incorporate whole milk or yogurt and other high-calorie foods such as eggs, gravies, lean meat and poultry, nuts, etc.

Foods to Avoid

Cancer patients may have a weakened immune system from their cancer treatment so it is advisable for them to avoid:
  • Raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or shellfish
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Unwashed produce and fruits

Nutrition for cancer patients is not a one size fits all diet. Treatment and its side effects may impact your eating habits and what is important for your diet.  It is therefore important to work with your health care team to tailor a diet that is specific to your situation. More information on cancer nutrition.

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