Healthy Eating Strategies

Good nutrition is always important while you are receiving cancer treatment. Adequate daily intake of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals is needed to promote healing and aid in minimizing side effects. If you would like to speak with a registered dietitian, ask your doctor or nurse to arrange this for you.

Diet Recommendations for Cancer Patients

Here are some recommendations to promote good nutrition:

  • Drink 2 or more cups of milk daily. Cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream or yogurt may be substituted. If you are unable to drink milk, you will likely need Vitamin D and possibly a calcium supplement. Some patients may be advised to use low fat dairy products such as 1% milk and low fat yogurt.
  • Eat at least 6-8 ounces of meat, fish or poultry every day or its equivalent in eggs, cheese or beans.
  • Eat at least 3-4 servings of fruit each day. Juice may be substituted.
  • Eat at least 3-4 servings of vegetables daily. Try to incorporate a dark green or dark yellow vegetable.
  • Eat at least 6-8 servings of grain or bread daily. These might include cereal, rice, pasta, oatmeal or sandwich bread.
  • Include fats and sugars in moderation unless directed otherwise by a member of your healthcare team.
  • To increase calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, nourishing snacks or liquid supplements, such as Carnation® Instant Breakfast, Boost,® or Ensure,® may be added between or along with meals.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: 6-8 glasses each day, if possible, (1.5-2 quarts).
  • Utilize fortified milk powder or whey powder when making such food products as puddings, creamed sauces, mashed potatoes, breakfast batters.

You might prefer to eat 5 or 6 smaller meals rather than the 2 or 3 larger meals usually eaten each day. If cooking smells are unpleasant, try cool or chilled foods which have less aroma. Remember to eat slowly and chew your foods well. A pleasant atmosphere or meals enjoyed with friends or family often help stimulate the appetite. Enjoy desserts because you need the calories and carbohydrates. Recommendations for this may be individualized based on your current health status and history including those with diabetes. Your dietitian can provide additional recommendations or assistance in helping you meet your nutrition and/or diet therapy goals.

Antioxidants and Food Supplements

Studies continue to be conducted to look at the role that antioxidants may play in cancer prevention. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals which cause cell damage. By preventing or minimizing this damage, it is theorized that antioxidants may then inhibit some types of cancer formation. It should be noted, however, that according to the National Cancer Institute, the information obtained from these studies is still inconsistent.

There is no scientific evidence that dietary supplements or herbal remedies can cure cancer or prevent its recurrence. It is usually not recommended that one supplement with pharmacological antioxidants (over the counter supplements) be used, but rather concentrate on obtaining them naturally by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The following list identifies which foods contain various types of antioxidants.

Which Foods are Rich in Antioxidants?

Antioxidants can be found in large quantities in fruits and vegetables, and in smaller amounts in nuts, grains and some meats, poultry and fish.

  • Beta-Carotene can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, squash, apricots, pumpkin, and mangos. It may also be found in green leafy vegetables including collard greens, spinach and kale.
  • Lutein is also found in green, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and kale.
  • Lycopene is found in red and pink pigmented foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit and blood oranges.
  • Selenium is not an antioxidant in the strictest sense but rather a part of the antioxidant enzymes. It can be found in Brazil nuts, beef, tuna, turkey, chicken, pasta, rice, and eggs.
  • Vitamin A is found in liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, egg yolks and mozzarella cheese.
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is found in various fruits and vegetables as well as cereals, beef, poultry and fish.
  • Vitamin E, a fat soluble vitamin, can be found in almonds, nuts, broccoli, and oils such as wheat germ, safflower, corn and soybean.


Vitamin, Mineral, Herbal Supplements

The supplement industry has experienced such growth in recent years and it is becoming quite common for the general public to take dietary supplements. Therefore, the importance of informing your physician of supplements you are taking cannot be stressed enough. It is of utmost importance to give a detailed dietary history, while making mention of any supplements, vitamins, minerals, and herbs you may be taking, as they may potentially interact with your treatment plan. Despite supplements being “natural”, many of them including your herbs have medicinal properties. It is usually NOT recommended to take over-the-counter supplements, herbals or antioxidants during your therapy.

Everyone should make an effort to make healthy food choices to promote good health.  When you are feeling well, and have not been ordered by a physician to restrict your diet for any medical reason, you should focus on making food and beverage choices that align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  These guidelines include:

  • avoiding oversized portions
  • choosing low-fat dairy products
  • choosing foods low in sodium
  • eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • drinking water instead of sugary drinks

You should aim to make daily food and beverage choices within your calorie goals to maintain or achieve a healthy weight.  Visit the website to learn more about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, get a personalized eating plan, learn about healthy eating tips, or get weight loss information.

American Institute for Cancer Research Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

The food and beverage choices you make each day can affect your chances of developing cancer during your lifetime.  If you are a cancer survivor, these choices can affect your chances of having a cancer recurrence, or developing a new cancer. Making healthy eating choices, staying physically active, and maintaining or achieving a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of cancer developing or recurring.  The AICR guidelines you should aim to follow are:

1.   Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.

2.   Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.

3.   Avoid sugary drinks.  Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat).

4.   Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.

5.   Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork, and lamb) and avoid processed meats.

6.   If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.

7.   Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).

8.   Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.

Special Population Recommendations

9.   It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.

10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

And always remember –Do not smoke or chew tobacco.